The privately funded Brightline company opened the first phase of their new higher-speed inter-city express passenger train service during the week of January 8, 2018. Initially the service ran the short distance from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale and then a few months later it was extended to the new downtown MiamiCentral station just north of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse.
In Miami the service runs on elevated tracks and connects with the existing Tri-Rail commuter service.
Introductory ticket prices were $10 between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in the “smart” carriages and $15 in the “select” carriages. Tickets from West Palm Beach to Miami now cost between $20 and $45. Children aged 12 and under are half price.
Services were temporarily suspended on March 25, 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and planned to resume on September 4 but as of November services are still suspended
Ultimately Brightline plan to introduce additional ticket options including 10-packs, weekend, weekly, monthly, annual and corporate ticket packages.
Whilst prices are nearly twice the price of the Tri-Rail service, journey times are half and there are no intermediate stops.
To start with Brightline offered ten round trips on weekdays, nine at weekends between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. The aim is to reach 16 trips per day offering an hourly service.
In January 2019 the service was rebranded as Virgin Trains USA following the minority financial stake from the Virgin Group but that partnership was terminated in July 2020 and the name reverted to Brightline Trains
The second phase will extend the service to the newly constructed South Intermodal Center railway station at Orlando International Airport (MCO) via Cocoa and the latest schedule puts the first services by 2022. There are also plans to bring Central Florida’s SunRail service to MCO.
The service between Miami and Cocoa will use upgraded Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The route from Cocoa to Orlando will require a newly constructed rail system alongside the BeachLine Expressway roadway.
Between Miami and West Palm Beach top speed will be around 79 mph, 110 mph to Cocoa and 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando.
Brightline Journey Times
Journey time from Miami to Fort Lauderdale is around 30 minutes, from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach another 30 minutes.
The 235 mile journey from Miami to MCO will be around three hours compared to a one hour flight time or around three and a half to four hours by road with no traffic. The existing Amtrak Silver Star and Silver Meteor services take around seven and a half hours and five and three quarter hours respectively to cover roughly the same distances.
The Brightline service offers reserved seating, power and USB outlets, free wireless internet, gourmet food and drinks. It is expected to attract both local commuters in the Miami area and long distance travellers between Central and South Florida.
The five train sets built by Siemens USA in California feature bright yellow engines pulling silver coaches highlighted with five colours; red, orange, green, blue and pink.
Each train set has two types of coaches:
- Smart coaches seating between 58 and 66 passengers in 19 inch wide seats
- Select coaches have extra wide 21 inch leather seats seating 49 passengers including single seats, access to Premium Guest Lounges, complimentary food, drinks and parking
All coaches have pair or quad seats with or without tables, drop-down task trays, large windows aligned with the seats, luggage towers for large carry-on bags, overhead luggage racks plus under-seat storage for smaller personal item and the last Smart coach has a checked baggage compartment.
Each train set typically consists of two engines (one at each end) plus four carriages holding around 240 passengers.
A further five train sets may be ordered if the high-speed service is extended to Tampa and/or Jacksonville.
Brightline Future Plans
The initial plan is to connect Miami with the new Terminal C at Orlando International Airport with services starting in 2022 but already the company are looking at extending the network even further.
Going south from Miami, Brightline is investigating the possibility of extending the service from downtown Miami to the cruise terminals at PortMiami using existing tracks and going north, two additional stations are planned at Aventura and Boca Raton. They are also looking at another station serving Fort Lauderdale airport and there is talk about extending the service even further north, as far as Jacksonville.
There are plans to continue the westbound leg of the tracks as far as Tampa with a station around Lakeland and another somewhere between downtown Tampa and Ybor City. Where possible the route would utilise the central median on State Road 417 and then Interstate I-4.
There are also plans to connect with the SunRail service at the Meadow Woods Station in south Orange County and the idea of a Walt Disney World stop has also been muted with the possibility of a station in the Celebration area. Further collaboration with SunRail would allow SunRail trains to reach both Walt Disney World and Orlando International Airport which would probably extend SunRail’s operating schedules to including nights and weekends.
In October 2020 Brightline said their first priority would be the Disney station with construction starting in 2022 and completion to Tampa by 2025. The Orlando to Tampa journey time would be around one hour with a return ticket costing around $70.
On November 23, 2020 Brightline and Walt Disney World confirmed that they will build a station at Disney Springs connecting the Walt Disney World Resort with Orlando International Airport and Miami. The station at Disney Springs would have a lobby on the ground level and an upper-level train platform.
This would allow Disney guests to connect directly to the Walt Disney World Resort hotels using Walt Disney World’s own coach fleet.
No word has been given yet on a likely completion date or whether it will impact on the existing Magical Express[ link/title].
In a second project, Brightline is also looking at the idea of connecting the 260 miles between Las Vegas with Los Angeles using similar rolling stock and work was expected to start in late 2020 but is still awaiting funding.
In 2015, All Aboard Florida announced that the new privately owned train service (the only one in the United States) would be called Brightline.
They were originally expected to open the first phase in mid 2017 and connect with Orlando by the end of 2017 but the first phase was delayed until early 2018 with construction starting on the second phase to Orlando slipping into the first quarter of 2019.
In late 2018, the Virgin Group purchased a minority stake and in January 2019 the service was rebranded as Virgin Trains USA only for the partnership to be terminated in July 2020.