During rush hour, the 18-mile commute from FIU to Miami Beach can easily take 45 minutes by car. On public transportation, that same trip now requires at least three buses and some two hours to complete.
But a group of FIU students has a plan to make the trip far easier — in the form of a Maglev-style train connecting the university to the Beach and all points in between. That’s a train that uses electromagnets to lift and propel, like those currently found across Japan and China. Total time from FIU to Miami Beach on a maglev, with seven stops along the way: 25 minutes.
“Millennials don’t want to be in cars,” says 21-year-old Demetrius Villa, the project’s mastermind. “The minute I get in my car I’m cursing and in traffic and my blood pressure goes up. We want freedom and to be able to choose our transportation.”
Villa, who’s from North Miami Beach, entered FIU in 2012 with a plan to study mechanical engineering and car design. He had grown up taking annual trips to New York, where half his family lives. But with an autistic brother who couldn’t make the trip by plane, the family would spend 32 hours each way on an Amtrak. After one especially painful trip in December 2012, the freshman switched his focus from cars to trains. He began furiously researching high-speed rail around the world, and in 2013, at just 19, he founded the High Speed Rail America Club, to promote bullet trains in the U.S., along with his brother Darius and their friend Aleksandr Khalfin.
“This is a system that’s affordable, profitable and can help the entire country,” he says. “When Japan started [with bullet trains] 50 years ago they were looking at how they would look for generations to come. This is what we need to do.”
In a city where even the slightest transit improvements sometimes seem like mission impossible, Maglev may seem like a far-fetched dream. But Villa's club points to rail's recent boom in the Sunshine State. The club began supporting All Aboard Florida, the private train firm aiming to connect Miami to Orlando. Then they learned about Florida EMMI, an ambitious $400 million plan to link the Orlando airport with key points across the city using—you guessed it—maglev technology.
In May, FDOT awarded the Georgia-based American Maglev Technology the opportunity to lease rights of way along the 15 mile stretch from Orlando International Airport to the Orange County Convention Center, paving the way for the project to begin. The privately funded rail line will be the first commercial maglev application in the hemisphere. It is driver-free and uses an estimated 60 percent less energy than traditional, fossil-fueled trains, plus requires less space for tracks.
Demetrius was inspired. So he called Tony Morris, the president and CEO of American Maglev Technology, and pitched him an idea to do something similar in Miami. A Miami Maglev, he said, could travel East-West, connecting high-trafficked points like FIU, Dolphin Mall, Marlin’s Stadium, the Seaport and Miami Beach. Morris loved the idea.
“We really think it’s a route that is so heavily trafficked that it could easily be self-sustaining without any subsidies,” Morris says. “We haven’t studied it completely or presented the idea to politicians, but we think it’s a project that has a lot of opportunity. We’re excited.”
He says the Miami Maglev system would cost a projected $550 million and would travel at a top speed of 60 mph. And it would integrate with metro rail, the bus system, Metromover and All Aboard Florida.
The High Speed Rail America Club has introduced the idea to commissioners and says it's gotten the ear of Xavier L. Suarez, a regular backer of innovative transit ideas. On September 21, the club plans to host a forum at FIU to further explain the idea.
Villa knows many people are weary of yet another transportation project, especially one that can be hard to wrap your head around, but he plans to continue preaching the benefits of maglev technology.
“The people who created the Panama Canal and the Golden Gate Bridge are the people who are remembered for doing bold things that help generations,” Villa says. “This is a long-term fix to make Miami the world-class city it needs to be.”
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.