Brightline Florida: a model for fast, successful trains
Brightline Florida makes frequent departures a priority, offering 17 per day in both directions.
Total travel time includes every stage of your journey – including waiting. So more trains = more options = shorter wait times = faster overall trips. And with hourly departures from the early morning to late in the evening, the Brightline train schedule ensures its customers have the flexibility to make and change their plans without having to worry about the train schedule. Additional services accomodate major sporting and concert events, with adjustable departure times to ensure fans can rely on catching the train home.
Brightline is using modern equipment for passenger comfort and smooth operation. Unified train sets make safe, easy passage between cars. Brightline operates with high-level platforms on tracks shared with freight trains, solving clearance issues with a bridge plate that extends from the train to the platform, allowing seamless, level boarding – no steps and ADA-friendly.
Brightline's new Orlando station is located in the Orlando International Airport and will arguably offer the most direct connection from an intercity rail line to an airport terminal in the United States. Brightline passengers will have pedestrian access from the train station to the new Terminal C being built on the south end of the airport as well as to the existing Terminals A and B via the elevated people mover system. This kind of convenient link between trains and planes is common in Europe and Asia and is a key factor in making both more successful. This all was made possible because the state created a rail plan in the 1990's that reserved right-of-way through Orlando International Airport and included a railway station in its master plan.
Brightline recently launched Brightline+, a mobility service that takes riders to and from Brightline stations. Passengers can request a private ride, shared shuttle, or bike to take them anywhere within a five-mile radius of the station. This allows passengers to book their door-to-door trip in one place, and lets them leave their car at home.
Phase 1: Miami - West Palm Beach
- 65-mile shared use line with freight
- 79 mph
- Operations began 2018
- 2019 ridership 885,000
Phase 2: West Palm Beach - Orlando International Airport
West Palm Beach - Cocoa
- 120-mile upgraded shared use line
- 110 mph
- Under construction now, operational 2022
Cocoa – Orlando International Airport
- 35-mile new dedicated high-speed line
- 125 mph
- Under construction now, operational 2022
- Expected annual ridership 3+ million
Phase 3: Orlando International Airport - Tampa
- 85-mile proposed dedicated line in the medians of I-4 and SR 417
- 125 mph
- Still in planning phases
Today, Brightline trains share tracks with freight trains from Miami to West Palm Beach. The company is paying for track upgrades on that shared-use line from West Palm Beach north to Cocoa. Those improvements will allow Brightline to run up to 110 mph from West Palm Beach to Cocoa starting in 2022. Brightline trains will seamlessly exit the freight line at Cocoa and head west on the new dedicated tracks to Orlando International Airport.
Future service will extend from Orlando International Airport to Tampa on dedicated tracks in the median of I-4, which was widened in the late 2000s to accomodate high-speed trains.
A common challenge to building new high-speed lines is land acquisition, which can be expensive, slow and controversial. Brightline has circumvented this problem by building new infrastructure within existing transportation corridors. From Miami to Cocoa, Brightline is upgrading the existing Florida East Coast Railway mainline for use as a shared rail corridor. Between Cocoa and Orlando, agreements have been reached to use the existing right-of-way of the Beachline Expressway. Use of these existing corridors allows Brightline to avoid purchasing thousands of individual parcels and keeps the project affordable.
Brightline's success is built in part on its cooperative relationship with Florida East Coast Railway, their host freight railroad. The two companies coordinate passenger and freight operations so trains run on time. This helps ensure Brightline's reliable frequency – a key selling point for travelers.
Brightline's parent company also owns and is developing real estate near the new stations to capitalize on concentrated travel activity. This revenue channel helps strengthen the company's long-term viability and appeal to investors, who are the financial foundation of the enterprise.
Brightline is funding its expansion primarily through a private activity bond allocation. These tax-exempt bonds issued through the Florida Development Finance Corporation helped attract billions of dollars in private capital, helping make Brightline more competitive with publicly-financed transportation systems like highways and airports, which are massively subsidized by taxpayers.
For the first time in many decades, a for-profit company is making a big bet on a fast, modern intercity rail system. If they succeed, Brightline will be a case study for making high-speed or higher-speed rail a real business proposition in other markets.