By Mary Hladky

Steve Abrams intends to resign as executive director of Tri-Rail following controversy over construction defects that delayed the commuter railroad’s extension of operations into downtown Miami.
10065754297?profile=RESIZE_180x180Tri-Rail has long planned to run trains into Brightline’s MiamiCentral station, and the upscale train company is constructing a platform for them.
But in December, Abrams told the board of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates Tri-Rail, that a structural engineer working for Tri-Rail discovered problems that include a platform too narrow to accommodate Tri-Rail trains and station bridges that possibly are not strong enough.
Board member Raquel Regalado, a Miami-Dade County commissioner, expressed anger that the board was just then hearing about the issues when Tri-Rail knew about them in April. She called on Abrams to resign, the Miami Herald has reported.
Abrams, a former Boca Raton mayor and Palm Beach County mayor and commissioner selected to run Tri-Rail in 2018, told The Coastal Star that he has the support of most board members but Regalado has been a constant critic.
That prompted his decision, made during a Jan. 28 SFRTA board meeting, to seek a negotiated separation agreement, he said.
“It is the accumulation of the fact that, although I have the support of the majority of my board, I have one board member who is intent in undercutting my ability to perform,” Abrams said.
“In my judgment, I have accomplished a lot here and in a 30-year career,” he said. “It has been a good record. I am not willing to be trashed by this commissioner.”
Abrams said he is open to remaining on the job until a new executive director is hired.
Abrams blames the construction defects on Brightline, whose workers are constructing Tri-Rail’s part of the MiamiCentral station. “Brightline gave us a defective platform,” he said.
Tri-Rail’s consultant issued a report critical of Brightline’s platform work and the bridges that link the train tracks to the station.
In retrospect, Abrams said, he should have alerted the board to the problems sooner. “I have taken responsibility for that,” he said.
He delayed, he said, because he knew there were defects but did not know how extensive they were or what needed to be done to fix them. He wanted to first get a report from a structural engineer to provide the board with that information.
In response to questions from The Coastal Star, Brightline provided a Dec. 14 letter from its president, Patrick Goddard, to Abrams that acknowledges problems with the platform, which he said were discovered by Brightline last April, and that Brightline is obliged to fix them.
Brightline suggested at the time that the easiest and quickest way to resolve this is for Tri-Rail to modify its trains’ entrance and exit steps, an idea that he said Tri-Rail’s engineering team agreed with. Tri-Rail had not taken steps to do so in December but last month presented a timetable for making the changes.
Goddard, however, denied that there are any problems with the station’s structural designs or with its bridges. A Dec. 21 letter from a Brightline consultant to Goddard said the bridges are appropriate and safe.
He outlined two other matters Tri-Rail has not yet addressed, saying they were the most significant impediments to starting Tri-Rail service into MiamiCentral.
Abrams told The Coastal Star that there aren’t quick and easy answers to a number of the issues. For example, the train steps could be modified, but he needed to find out if that change would create problems at Tri-Rail’s other stations.
Looking back on his tenure with Tri-Rail, Abrams said “we have had some great accomplishments.”
When he was hired, Tri-Rail had a $16 million deficit, which is now erased. Train tracks that were in disrepair were replaced and, as a result, speed restrictions on trains were eliminated. That, in turn, helped Tri-Rail improve its on-time performance to 93%, he said.
He also noted that the American Public Transportation Association found that Tri-Rail was second only to Denver’s commuter railroad in how quickly it recovered ridership lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

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