In Florida, a brand-new passenger rail line shuttling people between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach that will eventually reach Orlando is changing perceptions of what’s possible. Though, not a true high-speed rail line like those in Europe, the train still operates faster than most Amtrak lines in between stops, and via a noticeably smoother ride. By offering premium service on new trainsets, Brightline is betting that lurking beneath the frustrating landscape of rail policy is a demand for efficient rail service just waiting to be tapped.
A quick look into high speed rail in America brings you scattered and pessimistic results. The last serious national push for an HSR network in the US occurred in 2010 but was quickly nixed by members of congress after numerous governors and state politicians moved against HSR projects in their area. Despite all this, interest has remained high.
Amid wild swings in interest in funding Amtrak or other regional rail projects, Brightline has emerged as a possible new path forward for communities interested in creating new rail lines. Operated by All Aboard Florida, Brightline follows Florida East Coast Railway lines across the Florida coast. Although the project has run into controversy in Congress with its tax-exempt bonds, the project has been built entirely with private funds and most representatives that have Brightline in their districts support the project. If it’s successful, the company hopes they can become a model for similar systems in states like Texas.
Hopping on the line in Miami today is already a luxe experience. The station is bright and heavily accented with the brand’s cheery yellow. Brightline’s platforms are located in the Miami Central station, which will eventually connect with the regional Tri-Rail and Miami’s Metrorail and Metromover as well. The project as a whole is expected to include apartment buildings, food options including a food court and coffee shops, and other amenities for those who live or work nearby, such as a dry-cleaning facility. Currently none of these locations are open, but many are expected to open starting in the fall, and gradually more and more locations will come online as well.
Brightline’s services, meanwhile, are already fully operational. Ticket agents will cheerily help you purchase a ride, check your bag, and get you through their very quick security, which includes the standard metal detectors but is relatively unobtrusive, especially compared to travelling through the TSA. Once through the ticketing gate, Brightline already has its own café and gift shop available for customers to grab some food before their train, as well as lounges for passengers willing to shell out a little extra which include complimentary tea, coffee and snacks.
The experience on the train is a definite step up from your standard train experience. Stewards and stewardesses come by your seat with a food cart like you’d see on an airplane, with various beverages and snacks available. The ride itself is super smooth: you hardly feel any of the bumps and jiggles that regular rail travelers might have come to expect on longer-distance routes.
No one is sure yet how successful this venture will be yet, but there’s reason to be optimistic: rail ridership is increasing nationwide, especially in places where passengers can expect regular service with a certain level of quality. Time will tell what the future holds for private rail travel, but employees working for Brightline certainly seem to be optimistic – as my train pulled out of the Miami station, those workers who were left on the platform all stood and waved the train off until the new rail train was out of sight.