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By Jack M. Turner


            A New Year's visit to Miami provided the perfect opportunity to take a ride on the new DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) train set operated by Tri-Rail as my son and I had some free time before the January 2 Orange Bowl game at Dolphins Stadium.  A couple days before the trip I located a Tri-Rail representative who knew which runs would feature the new equipment built by Colorado Railcar as the DMU was rotating amongst the various schedules from day to day.

We arrived at the Pompano Beach/Sample Road Tri-Rail stop in time to witness the rapid passage of Amtrak train # 92, the Silver Star, at 10:25am.  The air was kicked up in a tempest as the New York bound streamliner breezed by at 79 mph.  Soon another headlight approached from the south and northbound Tri-Rail train # P612 arrived.  The most noticeable thing about the DMU was its 19 feet 6 inch height making it taller than the usual commuter cars.  We were underway at 10:40 as a southbound Tri-Rail train pulled in on the adjacent track. 

A southbound conventional Tri-Rail train arrives in Pompano Beach, FL.
Tri-Rail train # P612 arrives in Pompano Beach behind DMU # 703 on January 2, 2007.
The interior of the upper level of DMU 703.
The interior of the upper level of DMU 703.

            The view from the upper level was magnificent as large wraparound windows provided uninterrupted views of the former
Seaboard route that I rode many times as a youngster growing up in south Florida and have traversed often in years since.  Back in the 1960s my first cab ride had been between Miami and Pompano Beach aboard my favorite train, Illinois Central's beautiful City of Miami.  This would be the first time since then that I had boarded or detrained at Pompano, albeit at a different station.  Back in those days there was a rural feel to much of the route as it passed through wooded terrain that has long since been paved over by I-95 and other urban highways.

The reclining seats in the DMU were comfortable with high backs and soft brownish striped upholstery.  Two tables flanked by facing pairs of seats were available for those desiring work space.  The air conditioning was exceptional and, yes, it was warm outside in tropical south Florida even in January.  Passage between the train's two  cars was on the lower level thus the rear end of the upper level contained seats all the way across the width of the car much like the rear of a city bus.  The forward end of the car (near the head end of the train) seemed to ride less smoothly than the center where we sat.  Access to the lower level was via stairways from either direction near the center of the car.  Seating capacity for the DMU is 188 and it is 89 feet long.

The other car, also a bi-level design, seats 200 passengers and has a low floor that makes it ADA accessible.  The lower level of that car includes baggage storage areas, bicycle racks, and a handicapped accessible restroom.  The total seating capacity of the two car train is, at 388, comparable to longer commuter trains.

After stopping at the Amtrak/Tri-Rail station in Deerfield Beach, train P612 proceeded north to the new Boca Raton stop south of Yamato Road; the former stop was north of that highway in a cramped location.  The DMU's traction motors made a sound reminiscent of old rail diesel cars which were the inspiration for this new generation rail equipment.  After pausing at Delray Beach, another southbound TriRail train was met at 11:07 at Boynton Beach, another stop for the City of Miami and South Wind during the years the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad operated ex-ACL trains on the  former SAL route into Miami.  The ex-SAL Silver Meteor and Silver Star did not call at Pompano Beach or Boynton Beach. 

The next stop, Lake Worth, is a popular weekend stop because of a flea market located in the adjacent parking lot, however, this was a weekday so ridership was moderate.  We slid into West Palm Beach at 11:23 which recalled the days when I rode the Silver Meteor, City of Miami, or South Wind from Miami to West Palm then returned on the first train south, usually the Silver Star but sometimes the plush winter-only Florida Special.  A few years ago the station was beautifully restored though the former passenger waiting room was turned over to Greyhound while Amtrak took over the refurbished baggage room.  On this run we would continue to the end of the Tri-Rail line, Mangonia Park, 3 or 4 miles to the north.

A 16 minute layover allowed time to photograph the train including the aging GP locomotive that had pushed us northbound.  It would be on the forward end heading south and it was unclear why the DMU cars were being assisted instead of operating independently.  Half of the upper level seats face forward and half backwards on any given run which prevents the need to turn seats each time the train starts a new run.  Naturally we selected forward facing seats and were able to switch sides for the southbound run.  The uneventful return to Pompano Beach ended at 12:41pm as we nixed the idea of riding to the south end of the line near Miami International Airport since we have done that on previous trips. 

The southbound run prepares to depart Lett Mangonia Park on January 2, 2007 behind a GP-39 locomotive.
Bi-level car 7001 operates in tandem with the DMU.
Tri-Rail DMU 703 at Mangonia Park on January 2, 2007.
The DMU is noticably taller than a passing bi-level Tri-Rail train.

           After our ride we spent the night at the comfortable Hilton Garden Inn located midway between the Boca Raton and Delray Beach Tri-Rail stops.  The latter also serves Amtrak.  Other convenient hotels are located within walking distance of the West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Miami Airport stations.  For persons with a car, there is a large parking lot at Mangonia Park and lodging is approximately a 5 minute drive west.  Near the southern end Tri-Rail trains connect with Miami-Dade County's elevated MetroRail light rail trains which offer nice views of downtown Miami and operate above the abandoned right-of-way of the Florida East Coast Line from downtown to Dadeland South.  MetroRail, in turn, connects with an automated people mover system that runs on a couple of lines through the downtown Miami area.

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