Thursday, 16 October 2014

MIAMI Metrorail/Metromover

Sitting at Miami Airport waiting for my flight to San Juan in Puerto Rico, I'm looking back on my 1-day exploration of the Miami urban rail system, which consists of the Metromover and Metrorail, the latter with just one line basically, so it is easy to do in just one day.

Officially, since the Airport branch opened, there are two colour-coded Metrorail lines, and that's also implemented, there is a colour board in the front window, which also says 'Orange Line' or 'Green Line' in letters for those who cannot clearly distinguish colours. It is also announced by the drivers continuously so you can always be sure you're on the right train. On the platforms, however, an automatic voice only says 'a northbound train is approaching', so it seems this system has not been upgraded since the branch was added. There are next-train indicators, like TV screens, again not too well placed, but with a split screen left for southbound and right for northbound, and trains have a colour dot next to them. And this is the first system in the U.S. that I remember has waiting times with seconds, not just minutes. They display the next trains almost steadily, although short messages are mixed in, too, but for adverts, etc, a separate parallel screen is in charge. All in all, the service is o.k., trains run every 5 minutes on the shared section, except during midday off-peak, they run only every 7.5 minutes, which means every 15 minutes on the northern branches. During off-peak, the system is not really busy, you can always get a seat if you wish. I did, although I didn't like those soft worn-out plastic seats. What's nice, you can sit at the very front of the train and have a great look outside the front window to watch the route. And you can observe the driver, to see whether the train is operated manually or in ATO mode. While the latter is well-tuned and runs quite smoothly, the manual operation I observed on some rides was a bit unpleasant as it seems the driver cannot adjust the speed gradually, but has to select set speed steps, so he continously has to change 'gear' (I just detect myself referring to the driver as 'he', but in Miami I indeed just saw male drivers!). The worst part of the Metrorail system is that it is dated and needs some overhaul. The track is a bit worn-out, but especially the train wheels are below acceptable. I guess that they stopped maintaining them when they ordered new cars in 2012. But having ordered them from Ansaldobreda (who knows why?) the old trains may remain in service much longer than expected... (sorry, but Ansaldobreda's record is fairly bad, except for the automatic metro system they designed for Copenhagen, Milan M5 and Brescia). On the train fronts I missed the original 'M' logo they used to have, now it's just black, but the logo made them distinctive Miami (the same trains are also in operation in Baltimore).

The Metrorail stations are o.k., no exciting architecture or artwork and rather uniform, but generally in a good shape. Like in Atlanta, you need your ticket to get out of the system despite the flat fare system. The only one I remember with a bit of arty decoration is Palmetto, the only station on the first extension of the system:

 The Airport station is quite impressive with its huge vault, the Tri-Rail/Amtrak station next to it still hasn't opened. The weak point here is that everybody has to transfer to the people mover to actually get to the airport. While this is often a good solution when the people mover delivers passengers to different terminals, in Miami the MIA Mover drops everybody at a single station at the airport, and from there you still have to walk a while to get to your terminal. And while at the rail station, exiting and boarding people mover passengers were wisely separated, at the terminal station hords of waiting passengers with luggage obstruct the path for those getting of the train. So, wouldn't it have been wiser to extend Metrorail directly into the airport. Sure, the people mover also serves as a link between the terminal and the rental car station, which is in fact a really huge vestibule, much larger than most train or metro stations in the U.S., and that says a lot about the Americans' travel preferences! So, although the journey from downtown to the Airport is just 15 minutes and thus even shorter than in Atlanta, you need to add at least 10 minutes to walk to and ride the people mover and then walk to the terminal, whereas in Atlanta the rail station is next to the main terminal.

The only major interchange station, that at Government Center where the Metromover runs two levels below Metrorail, is not ideally laid out. There are some escalators missing so they switch the direction according to the main flux of passengers. While this is a logical thing to do, the alternative route is via a hidden lift or rather steep stairs. This interchange was laid out for a second Metrorail line that would cross on the intermediate level. At least part of its platforms plus concrete sleepers are visible on that level, rather ugly and useless anyway, so why don't they use that space for something else? There is no talk about using it for a transit line in the foreseeable future. It really lies there like a ghost station.

I bought a one-day pass for $5.65, but actually paid $7.65 because I purchased an EASY smartcard. Later I found out that like for single tickets you can also get a 1-day pass on a single-use paper smartcard! Anyway, I have started collecting these smartcards now. Otherwise the ticket vending machines were easy to handle and there were plenty of them available. On buses you can still pay cash also.

The downtown Metromover was actually a positive experience, especially after the ridiculous system in Jacksonville. The trains run pretty frequently and are heavily used. Certainly the fact that riding them is free helps to increase ridership. While the Inner Loop line always ran with two cars, the branches vary. I think the southern Brickell loop always had a single car, whereas the northern Omni Loop had one or two cars, without any obvious logic behind that. I think this branch should always have two cars as it does get very busy with people changing to and from buses at the Adrienne Arsht Center stop. But even the southern leg to the Financial Center was well used during late morning hours when you would expect all these office workers to be in their towers. The ride between the junction down that leg is pretty spectacular as the trains climb up steeply to Fifth Street station which lies high above the canal, feels like being on the 6th or 8th floor of a building, and then steep down again. The trains move swiftly, but station dwelling is sometimes a bit too long. It was surprising to see that the new trains have only two seats per car, which says a lot about its popularity, although I think they should add a few more and run double sets instead.

The Metromover stations are proper stations, some high above street level, and unfortunately often only with one escalator, so if this doesn't run in the direction you want, you may have to climb rather steep steps up or down. All stations are equipped with lifts, though. I liked the vaulted roof in some, whose structure reminded me of the Washington DC Metro, though in short, of course.

This morning, however, the Metromover let me down when I wanted to take it to travel towards the airport, as the entire system was closed down, no idea why. So I had to walk across downtown to take Metrorail at Government Center.

In Miami, I was successful in getting a full system map, a Metromover leaflet and a Metrorail timetable! At the Airport they have a staffed office, as well as at Government Center, which is very positive, because this is where one would look for it first. At other stations, there are bus timetables at the entrance, and often with a security guard sitting there, one of them also handed out a full system map they have in cupboards. On the platforms, full system maps and a downtown extract is also displayed, but I didn't see any neighbourhood maps.

Miami-Dade Transit's online trip planner is complete crap. For once, I wanted to prepare a trip properly, knowing that at the busstop it might be difficult to find out where which bus goes, so I did it before on my netbook. I entered two clearly defined addresses to get an answer that no connections were available! Then I clicked on the busstop icon in Google Maps and found out that bus 119 runs frequently from North Beach (where I had to drop my car) to downtown Miami. The Tranist website even showed me a timetable for this line. But when I was out there, the busstops didn't show a bus 119. Instead there was line S going downtown, they must have changed that recently. Anyway, this bus actually runs past my hotel! So why was the system not able to calculate a 1-seat ride? Absolutely useless! Even if it required 3 transfers, the system should be able to provide that information. Unfortunately many transit agencies use only Google Transit, which is a nice service, but too many errors, and if you tell them, they can't change it, because apparently on the transit agencies can make changes. And transit agencies employ lots of incompetent people, unfortunately...

Next stop: San Juan


Miami at UrbanRail.Net


  1. Replies
    1. There is not much I can write about Tri-Rail, I only saw it at the Metrorail/Tri-Rail interchange, which is quite a convenient station, actually the Tri-Rail part if nicer, and that it runs regularly throughout the day. Major flaw, of course, it does not reach the city centre, so commuters have to add another 20 minutes to get downtown.

  2. they actually did have more seats on the metromover and removed all but one pretty recently. since it is free and air conditioned, homeless liked to ride....and ride...and ride......

  3. Thank you for your publication!

    My trip in all metrorail and metromover stations Miami (in Russian):

  4. Resulting from this U.S. trip, I have now published the third book in my U.S. series, namely "Subways & Light Rail in the U.S.A. - Vol. 3: Midwest & South", for more info see

  5. Yes, Google Transit is worse than bad. In Catania, both the Circumetnea and the Metro was not shown, as well as the whole of Turkish urban rail! In istanbul, it did not even logically make sense. Even if the M1b branch opened the same time as M3, it only shows the M3. And the T4 extension that opened back in 2009 is not shown. And I could go on, but it would be too long.

  6. But keep in mind that Google Transit is not a Google content, but a tool local transport operators can use and need to keep updated, so if a city does not feature Google Transit properly it is not Google's fault, but the local transport operator's.


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