Steven Abrams, the executive director of the Tri-Rail commuter rail system, declared his intent to resign on Friday after clashing with the board of directors over troubles related to construction defects that delayed the line’s ability to use Brightline’s station in Miami.
“It was a great run for me as the director,” Abrams told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in a telephone interview after he made his announcement at a board meeting.
But he had his share of issues over construction defects at the MiamiCentral station, which is the main South Florida terminal for Brightline, the high-speed passenger railroad.
The problems, which reportedly arose in April, weren’t disclosed until December.
A key glitch included new station platforms that didn’t allow the trains’ exit and entry steps to deploy correctly.
Board member and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Raquel Regalado was among his most vocal critics. She assailed Abrams for belated disclosures of the problems.
On Friday, Abrams offered the board of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees Tri-Rail, a schedule for resolving the defects issue.
Seeks peaceful transition
Abrams, a former mayor of Boca Raton, has been in office for three-and-a-half years. He said he hopes to help with a leadership transition.
“I’m sure there will be a transition period, I hope there is,” he told the Sun Sentinel.
Abrams announced his intent to leave on the day of his annual performance evaluation by the board.
“The board’s direction was to discuss it with the chairman,” he said, referring to Hal Valeche. “We spoke briefly after the meeting. We’ll have a more involved conversation at some point next week.”
Abrams said he is under an open-ended contract at a base salary of $225,000 that has risen to $235,000 after pay raises.
“I have no intention of leaving them in the lurch,” he said. “Let them get a selection process going. This not any kind of a storming out. I have my heart and soul in Tri-Rail. I started on the board in 2010 and have been the chairman and executive director.
“This is something near and dear to me and I am sure I will still be involved — as a rider, for one,” he said. “I’m entering my 12th year as regular commuter.”
Tri-Rail has long pursued entry into downtown Miami so it could offer the stop as an option to passengers who board its trains along the CSX line, which runs mostly west of I-95 from Palm Beach County to Broward and into Miami-Dade.
But the effort has been a star-crossed endeavor. The first hurdle involved the installation of a safety system known as “positive train control,” which is designed to avoid collisions.
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Then came a row last year over construction defects involving the station platform and the structural strength of a bridge leading into the facility.
“The timeline should have been that Tri-Rail would be in the station if Brightline had completed their positive train control and delivered a functioning platform or a defect free platform,” Abrams said in the interview.
“But some people put the blame on us and that’s unfortunate,” he said.
Abrams took umbrage after Regalado asserted she felt like she was “dealing with my adolescent children.”
“The Miami-Dade County commissioner cast a lot of disparaging comments, including characterizing me as a cartoon character after having a 30-year career in public service that was pretty stellar,” Abrams said.