Thursday, May 1, 2008
7 News Investigations: Off Track
There has been nothing cheap about the expansion of Miami International Airport. One example, millions have been spent on a train that was running on a track in Japan. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero with this special assignment report, "Off Track."
WSVN -- This train didn't have a destination or passengers. Yet, for years, it and four others ran on tracks in Japan at a total cost of more than $2 million.
Gino Antoniello: "July 2005, they were ready to ship."
Gino Antoniello is a Vice President of Sumitomo, the company that built the trains. They're supposed to be running at the new north terminal at Miami International Airport. But when the trains were ready, the terminal wasn't.
Gino Antoniello: "Most factories won't allow you to store 20 cars after they've been built."
So, in Japan, a storage facility had to be built and paid for. For nearly three years, MIA also paid for the electric trains to be exercised and maintained at the factory.
Gino Antoniello: "They were also cared for mechanically, electronically. They were periodically washed."
In the end, that maintenance on the trains cost about $50,000 a month. Now they have finally been wrapped and packed and loaded on a freighter headed to South Florida.
Carmel Cafiero: "But when they arrive here at the Port of Miami in a couple of weeks, the trains will still be years away from being fully operational, and, as you might expect, the price tag will keep going up."
So far the trains have cost $71 million, $11 million more than the initial estimate. By the time they're up and running, the cost could climb to $130 million.
Carmel Cafiero: "Is it worth it?"
John Cosper: "Absolutely."
John Cosper is MIA's deputy director, and the man overseeing construction of the massive north terminal.
It's a project started by American Airlines and then taken over by Miami-Dade's Aviation Department.
John Cosper: "I think it just kept getting more and more off the track and more behind schedule and the building part never kept pace to the point it should have to be ready for the trains when they came."
Cosper says the trains will be essential to the new mile-long terminal. They'll operate on an electrified track on the roof of the terminal and will be able to move people end to end in seven minutes.
Dan McFadden: "They're installing the power rail. These are the tracks that will lead into the maintenance and storage facility."
But still more storage is in the future for those multi-million dollar trains. The tracks aren't ready, the terminal isn't finished and probably won't be done until 2011. By then, the trains will be six years old and so will their technology.
Gino Antoniello: "In some instances that has occurred. I don't think it's a major impact to the county, but I can tell you these cars look brand new. They are in great operational shape."
The trains are by no means the only unexpected expansion expense. Total cost for the project is going to be about $3 billion, $2 billion more than first thought.
Airlines pay for all this and so do passengers since costs are passed on.
John Cosper: "If you use the airport, yes, you are definitely paying part of the cost, but this is the way most airports operate, pretty typical of airport funding."
But there has been nothing typical about how MIA's train to nowhere got so "Off Track."