PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. -- Tri-Rail's growing number of riders and future plans to expand service to the Florida East Coast Railway has officials zeroing in on bigger and better digs in northern Palm Beach County.
The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which runs Tri-Rail, has found a new spot to store and maintain trains that's 10 times larger than its current facility in downtown West Palm Beach.
It's space, officials say, that Tri-Rail will need as ridership grows and with it the number of passenger cars per train. Last year, Tri-Rail ridership grew 8.3 percent and that trend is expected to continue.
The number of Tri-Rail locomotives and passenger cars will grow from 48 to 82 in the next three years, creating train sets that are four to five cars long.
And the less than 1-acre spot in West Palm Beach won't be able to handle the longer trains or even more trains.
"It's a priority, even more so if we expand," said Joe Quinty, the regional transportation authority's transportation planning manager.
The regional transportation authority is shopping around a location about a half mile north of the Mangonia Park Tri-Rail Station that lies within the boundaries of West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach and Mangonia Park.
It's in the midst of an environmental study, looking at a conceptual design and seeking public input. But there isn't money yet for the $16 million to $20 million construction of the facility.
But officials say the site is critical to Tri-Rail's future, particularly its proposal to offer passenger service on the FEC within the next three to five years.
"Everyone wants us to expand, whether we go to Jupiter or offer full service on the FEC," Quinty said. "To do all those things, we're going to need this facility."
Tri-Rail has a 53-acre maintenance yard in Hialeah, but the smaller northern yard is needed for light maintenance, inspections, fueling and storage.
Tri-Rail's search for another spot kicked into high gear in the past nine months as expansion plans were proposed.
"We think the two go hand-in-hand," Quinty said.