County finally fixing Metrorail air conditioners, thanks to ‘bad newspaper press’

Miami-Dade’s aging Metrorail trains are often steamy and drippy thanks to faulty air-conditioning systems that are so old the county has trouble finding parts. But relief could be coming soon, thanks in part to “bad newspaper press.”

A March 7 notice of a plan to outsource a $3.5 million repair job for the air-conditioners in 40 Metrorail cars says the expedited work is needed “to eliminate passenger discomfort and bad newspaper press for the Department of Transportation and Public Works.”

“We see these contracts all the time,” said Pete Flores, executive vice president of the Transportation Workers Union in Miami, which has the right to bid on any outside repair work. “That’s the first time I’ve seen the language ‘bad press.’ 

“I think the people at rail are doing the best they can with what they have to work with,” she said. “To complain about it, really isn’t going to do any good. It isn’t productive.”

Miami-Dade has begun replacing its original Metrorail fleet with new trains, a $380 million project funded by the county’s half-percent sales tax. Eight of the promised 136 Metrorail cars have been put on the tracks, a pace already putting the county behind a schedule announced last summer.

With Miami-Dade’s transit system facing a budget squeeze and aging equipment, the county last year reduced service by cutting operating hours and scheduling longer waits between trains. While operating hours for Metrorail were restored this year, extended waits between trains continue. Later this month, Miami-Dade is imposing new cuts on its bus system as well.

There is no hint of short-term relief beyond the arrival of new trains. This week, Transportation Director Alice Bravo told county commissioners her department’s revenue projections were down 5 percent for the budget year that began Oct. 1, thanks to a continuing decline in ridership.

As Miami-Dade buys replacement cars, administrators are forced to weigh how much the county should spend fixing Metrorail cars slated to be put out of service within the next two years.

The outsourcing notice does not include a timeline for repairing the 40 cars, which Flores said is a large enough work order to cover most — if not all — of the Metrorail cars with faulty air-conditioning units. In October, the Transportation Department announced it was buying old train parts from the Metrorail system in Washington, D.C.

Flores said the system desperately needs the air-conditioning repairs. “It’s bad,” he said. “For a lot of the cars, the air-conditioning units don’t work. If they do work, they blow warm air.”

He questioned whether the fresh investment suggests Miami-Dade will need the old Metrorail trains longer than anticipated as the county manages the testing and delivery of the new trains. Clarence Washington, president of the transportation union, called the outsourcing bid an example of chronic under-spending in the county’s transit system.

“They should have have been letting our guys maintain those trains all along,” he said.

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