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Groundbreaking For $50M Port Of Miami Rail Project

MIAMI (CBS4) -- There was a special groundbreaking at the Port of Miami Friday for a major construction project that will allow the Port to do something it hasn't done in years, directly connect to the mainland by railroad.

Friday morning's groundbreaking kicked off the start of a $50 million dollar project that will reconnect the Port of Miami to the national rail network via the Florida East Coast Railway.

Reconstruction of the rail line, and rehabilitation of the rail bridge over Biscayne Bay, which was damaged and taken out of service as a result of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and construction of the Intermodal Rail Yard on Dodge Island will enable Miami to accommodate super cargo ships scheduled to arrive in 2014 with the expansion of the Panama Canal.

The rail line to the Port will allow more cargo to be moved and faster.

"The attractiveness is time to market what you need to be able to do is when a container comes into the Port of Miami, you need to be able to distribute that container quickly and cost effectively throughout the south eastern United States," explained Hussein Cumber of Florida East Coast Railway.

The federal, state, and locally funded project will make the Port of Miami an international competitor and it will also mean jobs. More than 800 workers will be employed during the construction phase and officials say permanent jobs will follow with the increased business at the port.

"This is a big day because we are preparing for the big ships that will come all the way from Asia that will be able to come through the expanded Panama Canal," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, (D) Florida. "That's going to mean a lot of new jobs in the area and that's going to mean a lot more dollars and businesses that's going to come not only into the South Florida economy but the entire state of Florida."

Sen. Nelson was joined at Friday's groundbreaking by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, and other local officials.

The rail reconnection project is part of a larger investment program taking place at the Port of Miami.  The Miami Access Tunnel and the 50-foot dredge project will also allow the Port of Miami to benefit from theP anama Canal expansion in late 2014.

"The improvements we're making to the Port of Miamiwill benefit people and businesses across the Miami-Dade region and nationwide," said Secretary LaHood.  "The Port o fMiami is a vital part of our nation's economic growth and will be even more competitive in the global economy once it is fully restored," said LaHood in a released statement.

The restored rail service will link the port with the Hialeah Intermodal Rail yard, and from there will provide direct cargo access to the national rail system.  Currently, the port is completely dependent on trucks to transport containers to three primary distribution centers.

"This project is a win for everyone," said U.S. Maritime Administrator David Matsuda, "Businesses will get the goods much faster and fewer trucks on the already congested roads will mean drivers in Miami will spend less time stuck in traffic."

The project will also help reduce greenhouse emissions by eliminating approximately 60,000 fewer truck trips every year between the port and the Florida East Coast Railway's (FEC) Hialeah Intermodal Rail yard.  A total of 400,000 truck trips are expected to be eliminated annually from the road within eight years of completing the project

A $22.8 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation together with funds from the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida East Coast Railway and Miami-Dade County are paying for the massive construction program.

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