I was rather amazed this Tuesday morning when I read the local fish wrapper and noticed the Monroe County rulers, movers, and shakers were actually considering to ponder over the notion of possibly thinking about the hint of maybe tossing around the idea of looking into the feasibility of just talking, mind you, just talking, of the pros and cons of building a light rail system from the mainland through the Keys. Wow! Finally. The elusive clue has been found.
I have long been an advocate of establishing a rail line down here. It just makes sense. Start it up in Homestead where there is plenty of room to build a station with parking, run it all the way to Key West and eliminate the need to drive a vehicle down US 1. Build the damn thing so it’s not running on fossil fuels, is efficient, affordable, and can withstand the rigors of storms. I know, I ask too much, but the technology is there. After all, we were able to rescue Matt Damon from the planet Mars, a light rail line should be easy. (Sad side note: There were people who saw said movie and believed it was based on a true story.)
There are way too many vehicles in the Keys as it is. Old Town in Key West is a fustercluck when it comes to parking and maneuvering around. Duval becomes a totally different and more better experience when it is closed off to traffic. US 1 is a long 3 hour drive at 45 mph with speed traps at every mile. Fuel costs are more down here because it all needs to be shipped in. Salt and sun effects turn vehicles into rust buckets, known as conch cruisers, which have no business even being on the road. The more the Keys can reduce the number of vehicles down here, the more better the experience would be.
I have been a member of the car free lifestyle for a while now. I sold my last car 5 years ago and while it was the toughest decision I have made in a long time, and I’ll admit I miss my jeep, it has proven to be the right one. Where at one time I was spending thousands of dollars a year in transportation costs for things like fuel, insurance, and maintenance, now I spend less than $50 year, mainly on bus fare. And I can still get around just as easy. I won’t say I will never own another vehicle again, many things could change, but for living here on a 2 x 4 rock, it’s just as easy and a lot cheaper to rely on public transportation, the occasional bicycle if you have the ability to defy gravity, or use the those two things at the end of your legs. Put one in front of the other, repeat, and see what happens.
I shouldn’t get my hopes up over this story as they are just talking. But the fact they are just talking is a huge step in the right direction. Still, going from talking to an actual rail line is a long ways away. There will be many detractors, some already are against it if you read the story. And commuter rail lines have a bad history of being vastly over budget, taking forever to build, and not living up to the expectations. There will be multiple layers of bureaucracy to overcome. Local governments will have questions. The wealthy will want nothing to do with it. Environmentalists will want to know what impact the line will have on the islands and water. And everyone will have their hand out wanting to know what’s in it for them. Given the Keys reputation for corruption, bribery, and scandal in other projects it’s going to be an uphill battle. At every turn someone is going to point out what happened the last time somebody tried to build a railroad through the Keys. Um yeah, it didn’t end well. But it shouldn’t stop them from trying again. Technology has advanced beyond the days of the steam engine. If they can build a goddam tunnel under the English Channel, they should be able to build a storm proof rail line across the Keys.
I got to believe the rail line will be built. I doubt most of us alive today will be around to see it when it’s done, but I can see it eventually being built. It just makes sense to do so, which is why I’m surprised it has been mentioned by the powers who rule these islands. Seldom do they do anything which makes sense.
So, the long journey will begin. We can look forward to years of arguments, studies, research, grants, bribes, accusations, corruption, bids, debates, protests, arrests, court hearings, lawsuits, taxes, bitching, moaning, whining, and sniveling….and maybe eventually, some actual construction. You know, all the things which make this country great. But if they can get over themselves, put the egos aside, and look at the benefits a rail line will have for the Keys, and stop looking at what’s in it for themselves, it might become a reality. Just kidding….it’s going to be like a bunch of kids fighting over the latest toy. Grab some popcorn and watch the fun.
And not because anyone would ever ask, but here is what I would propose:
Build it in as an environmentally safe way as is possible taking into account it’s effects on the water, land, animal, and plant life.
Start the line in Homestead where there is plenty of room for the station, parking, and link ups to the Miami lines.
Run down US 1 all the way to Stock Island. Have a terminal there with buses and taxi service waiting to bring passengers into town.
Stops along the way at Key Largo, Tavernier, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine, and other lesser stops as needed.
Make sure the trains can carry some cargo as well as people. You know, add in a box car so people can bring things like luggage, bicycles, fishing and dive gear, and things of that nature.
Utilize as much of the existing right of way already in place to build the line. Anywhere US 1 has median, use said median for the rail. Try to avoid taking away as much private property as possible. Going out over the water would be ok as long as it’s done in as an environmentally safe way as possible.
Run the trains non stop, day and night, at all times.
Make it affordable for the average person to ride.
Give incentives to use the train. Offer passes and discount fares. Give resorts, tour operators, hosts, hotels and motels the ability to add in train fares with vacation packages. Raise parking fees, vehicle registration fees, add in some tourist tax, or charge a toll to drive down here. It’s what they’ve been trying to do for years. It could also go towards paying the cost of building and maintaining it down the road.
Limit vehicles in the Keys to local residents, commercial, emergency, special events, and government.
Build more bicycle lanes and infrastructure.
Promote electric vehicles.
Utilize the trains for evacuations in case of a storm.
If the line goes down after a storm, rebuild it.
Think outside the goddam box and make this thing happen so it benefits everyone and the Keys.
I know. It’s a bit of a dream. What can I say. I watched too much Disney on tv when I was a kid. I’ve always had this naive notion the world can work beyond the desire for money and power. People would work together for the common good. Well, it’s fun to speculate anyways.
As I said, at least they are talking. I suspect we will have people on Mars before we have a running rail line through the Keys but it is a project worth doing. Perhaps one day I’ll get to ride on it. Perhaps. One day.