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We just came back from an adventure in South Florida.

Last week we drove down to West Palm Beach to ride on Tri-Rail, Florida's first commuter train system.

Think of Tri-Rail as SunRail's big brother. SunRail and TriRail have similar birth stories. Both are creations of the Florida Department of Transportation. SunRail was launched this past May to offer a transportation alternative to address the traffic jams expected during the massive I-4 Ultimate construction project that is scheduled to run from this coming February through 2021. Tri-Rail began operations in 1989 to provide a commuter alternative during a massive construction project on I-95.

We rode round trip on Tri-Rail from the Mangonia Park station in West Palm Beach to the Hialeah Market/Miami Airport station and back again to Mangonia Park. This was our first ride on Tri-Rail and the round trip took 4 hours.

The round-trip fare was $11.55. Tri-Rail uses a ticket-vending machine and tap on, tap-off system similar to SunRail. And, we did have some problems with the Tri-Rail ticket-vending machines.

We traveled during the off-peak period in late morning so we can't tell you what the Tri-Rail experience is like during morning and evening rush hour. Tri-Rail's website doesn't have a real-time tracker, which was a surprise. Passengers have to depend on their conductor or platform announcements when there are delays.

Our first impression of Tri-Rail wasn't great because the station where we boarded is sandwiched between a huge, abandoned jai alai fronton and a sprawling, rundown apartment complex. Once we got on the station platform we felt more comfortable because there are uniformed, armed security guards posted at the station.

The forlorn conditions surrounding the station really needs to be addressed. We hope Tri-Rail and local officials are working on this.

Another thing, the locomotive for our train was a work horse -- it looked like one, and not in a positive way. The locomotive's exterior was beaten up and rusting. It's paint job didn't match the cool tropical motif on the passenger coaches. What's up with that?

​Throughout the train trip we kept reminding ourselves that we weren't in Central Florida. Much of the Tri-Rail track corridor cuts through the grimy underbelly of South Florida -- rough neighborhoods, endless junkyards and warehouses marred by out-of-control graffiti. (This graffiti wasn't artwork, it was pure vandalism) There was enough trash dumped along the tracks to fill 10 Amway Centers. We have concerns about trashy areas along the SunRail corridor, but the eyesores next to SunRail tracks don't come close to what Tri-Rail passengers endure every day.

Some neighborhoods next to Tri-Rail stations looked better than others but we didn't notice anything on a scale of Park Avenue in Central Florida's Winter Park.

But enough dishing on Tri-Rail, there were many things we liked.

Tri-Rail passengers coaches were clean and appeared to be well maintained. The ride was very smooth compared to SunRail, which has some bumpy sections of track. Though we were traveling during an off-peak period there were lots of passengers, but the train didn't feel crowded.

Tri-Rail is very convenient for people on the way to catch a flight because the train stops close to two airports -- Fort Lauderdale - Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport. We saw numerous airline passengers with luggage getting on and off the train at those airport stations.

And the best two things about SunRail: It runs on weekends and late at night.

​So what about you, have you ever ridden on Tri-Rail? Tell us about your experience. info@sunrailriders.com


Meet Tri-Rail, SunRail's big brother

We can learn important lessons from Tri-Rail's strengths and weaknesses

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