UPDATED, April 1, 11:30 a.m.: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Brightline suspended its rail service in late March, laying off 250 employees. A spokesperson for the company said that the suspension of service has not affected construction of its planned Orlando rail line.
Brightline completed its first full year of express rail passenger service linking Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in 2019. Enjoying growth in revenue over that time, the company is moving ahead with development of commercial and residential properties along the railroad’s route.
Brightline launched Virgin MiamiCentral, its mixed-use development covering more than 11 acres at the railroad’s Miami terminal, but that’s just one of its real estate holdings under development as the railway expands routes in Florida. It plans to open a station at the Florida home of The Mouse, near Walt Disney theme parks in Orlando, and eventually build an extension to Tampa.
Majority-owned by Fortress Investment Group, Brightline is the only intercity passenger train service under private ownership in the United States. Although passenger and revenue figures are still far below the company’s original projections, both are up. Brightline’s fast intercity service contrasts sharply with the slower (and cheaper) service offered by Tri-Rail, an existing passenger line owned and operated by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
For some, it’s been hard to keep track of the railway’s name. The express line started out as All Aboard Florida (AAF) in 2012. In 2015, AAF announced that the railroad would operate as Brightline. At the end of 2018, Brightline announced that Virgin Group made a minority investment in the company and would be providing rights to rename the system Virgin Trains USA. The rebranding from Brightline to Virgin Trains is ongoing, with completion expected by mid-2020.
Progress has been made in many regards, but the system is not without some heavy baggage. More than 40 people have been killed on its tracks and rail crossings. Brightline said that 75 percent of the fatalities were due to suicidal behavior or drug use, while other deaths were due to cars, pedestrians or bicyclists who underestimated the speed of the trains as they crossed the tracks. Brightline and the Florida Department of Transportation have installed additional safety measures. The rail system also overcame legal action and vocal opposition from Florida residents protesting its expansion to Orlando.
Before the Brightline is reborn a Virgin, we look at some pertinent numbers related to its growth in the region.
Number of express stations currently served by Brightline in South Florida (Downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach). Additional regional stations are planned for Port Miami, Aventura and Boca Raton. Construction has begun on the West Palm Beach-Cocoa-Orlando segment and the station at Orlando International Airport.
Total ticket revenue in 2019, up 119 percent from the previous year, when Brightline was ramping up service to add Miami to its Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach stations.
Top speed between Miami and West Palm Beach. Brightline’s “higher speed trains” are expected to reach 110 mph between West Palm Beach and the Cocoa station when completed, and 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport. Brightline trains are designed to reach 125 mph.
Average fare per passenger in 2019. Ticket prices begin at $17 for a single trip — basic fare — and $27 for select or first class. Lower fares are available for commuter tickets, special discounts and travel packages.
Passengers transported by Brightline in 2019. This is up 75 percent from 579,205 passengers in 2018, when the carrier did not offer full service between Miami-Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach until about midyear.
Travel time between Miami and West Palm Beach.
Seats for passengers in each Brightline coach. The railroad runs five 4-car train sets. The trains, which use diesel electric locomotives, were by built by Siemens in California and designed by engineers and architects at the Rockwell Group. Brightline has 34 departures Monday through Friday, 20 on Saturday and 18 on Sunday.
15 million pounds
The amount of CO2 emissions removed from the air between January 2018 and June 2019, when 1 million riders used Brightline. The carrier’s locomotives use a fuel that consists of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel.
$1,900 per month
Starting rental cost for apartments in Brightline’s Park-Line Miami, made up of two luxury residential towers (30 and 33 floors with 816 multi-family rental units) offering studio and one- to three-bedroom apartments.
Amount raised from bond investors to fund the 169-mile expansion from West Palm Beach to Orlando.