America's first new private passenger rail system in 100 years has launched Florida's rail future
. The skinny? Brightline
's higher-speed (average 80 mph / 129 km/h) service will ultimately connect Orlando and Miami in around three hours — compared to four hours by car
. While South Florida's Orlando rail link is still a few years off, intermediate service between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach has hit the rails.
In recent decades, pickings have been slim. Amtrak's two daily round-trips between Orlando and its creepy, isolated Miami station can take up to eight hours. South Florida's Tri-Rail line offers Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm travelers all the ambience of New Jersey Transit albeit with palm tree views.
Brightline promises to be a game changer. The new line will ultimately bring fast service — comparable to existing Acela Northeast Corridor service between Washington and Boston — to nine million South Floridians and tens of millions of tourists.
Initial runs connect Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in half an hour. Later this year, expanded service will transport passengers between West Palm and MiamiCentral in an hour.
New, spacious, accessible trainsets
feature free WiFi and power outlets and premium "Select Class" perks like complimentary food and beverages. Newly constructed stations will offer free rideshare to nearby destinations. MiamiCentral will feature Metro rail connections and a range of dining options and shops.
January's kick off follows a Phase I construction period during which Brightline's parent, the All Aboard Florida subsidiary of East Coast Industries, LLC, has navigated multiple delays and fended off grassroots opposition. Brightline's Phase II
is expected to connect South Florida with Orlando International Airport in 2020.
Meanwhile transportation industry leaders and observers, including high-speed rail developers in California and Texas, are watching to see if privately-owned passenger rail can find its place in America's 21st century transportation strategy.