TrainWeb.org Facebook Page

Brightline Trip - Miami to West Palm Beach 1/26/2022



by Chris Guenzler



After detraining from Miami Metrorail, Elizabeth and I and went downstairs and into the building to the east of us, which is Brightline's Miami Central station.

Brightline History

Brightline is a privately run inter-city rail route between Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida. Brightline began operating over its current route in January 2018 and the company is currently building an extension to the Orlando International Airport which is expected to enter service in 2023.

As of August 2020, it is the only privately-owned and operated inter-city passenger railroad in the United States. The line was developed starting in March 2012 as All Aboard Florida by Florida East Coast Industries, a Florida real estate developer owned by Fortress Investment Group. Construction began in November 2014 on stations and improvements to tracks owned by the Florida East Coast Railway, which at the start of construction, was also owned by Fortress (it was sold in January 2018).

In late 2018, it was announced that Virgin Group would become a minority investor in the railroad and would provide rights to rebrand the service as Virgin Trains USA. In August 2020 they reverted to the Brightline name, ending the branding deal, claiming that Virgin had not provided the agreed investment money.

Contruction

In 2012, Florida East Coast Industries announced plans to operate passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando. The construction was projected at the time to be $1.5 billion. In March 2013, All Aboard Florida applied for a $1.6 billion Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing loan, which was administered by the Federal Railroad Administration, and in late 2014, the company applied for a $1.75 billion private activity bond allocation, with proceeds from the bond sale substantially reducing or replacing entirely the amount of the RRIF loan request.

The company received a Finding of No Significant Impact from the Federal Railroad Administration in January 2013, effectively clearing way for work to begin between Miami and West Palm Beach. The Final Environmental Impact Statement was released on August 4, 2015. By the beginning of 2015, the company had started site work at the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach stations, plus right of way improvements along stretches of the corridor. On November 10, 2015, All Aboard Florida announced that the service would operate under the name Brightline.

Service between Miami and West Palm Beach began on May 19, 2018.

In November 2018, it was announced that Virgin Group would become a minority investor in the railroad and would provide rights to rebrand the service as Virgin Trains USA.

Two key counties on the coastal route north of the West Palm Beach station have, for various reasons, been fighting the extension of the rail line through Martin and Indian River Counties in court. One of their objections is that Brightline is owned by a private corporation, so they should not be allowed to issue tax-exempt bonds as if they were a municipality. On December 24, 2018, after four years of legal battles, a Federal District Judge threw out a suit by Indian River County that claimed the U.S. Department of Transportation improperly approved the bond allocation, clearing the way for construction of the new rail corridor through the Treasure Coast and Space Coast. On October 5, 2020, the US Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of that decision, ending Indian River County's efforts to stymie development. The County's efforts at a Supreme Court hearing were financed with over $200,000 in private donations in addition to over $4 million in County funds.

In April 2019, the company secured $1.75 billion in funding for the Orlando extension and said construction would begin right away.

In August 2020, railroad managers announced that Virgin had not provided the agreed investment money and the company would be ending its branding deal, returning to the previous Brightline brand. In March 2021, Virgin sued Brightline for $251.3 million because of the broken contract.

More Construction

Construction began on the Miami to West Palm Beach section with the laying of new tracks and closure of the temporary surface lots in Government Center, Downtown Miami, in mid 2014. Preliminary work on the Miami station, such as site preparation and demolition, began later in the year. Suffolk Construction was the general contractor for the Miami station. Piles were being set on the four lots of MiamiCentral in early 2015.

On October 29, 2014, work on the Fort Lauderdale station began with the demolition of existing buildings on the site. A groundbreaking ceremony for the West Palm Beach station was held in November 2014. Moss & Associates, of Fort Lauderdale, was the general contractor for the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale stations.

In January 2015, crews started replacing track throughout the corridor. All Aboard Florida secured leasing of easement rights alongside the Beachline from the Central Florida Expressway Authority for $1.4 million in December 2015.

Construction work on Phase 2, between West Palm Beach and Orlando, officially began in June 2019, with a groundbreaking ceremony at Orlando International Airport.Preliminary work on the corridor began in September 2019, in the area of Jensen Beach and Sebastian, and begin path clearing for construction of the Orlando-to-Cocoa portion in October of that year.

As of May 2019, the contractors on the project were the Hubbard Construction Company, Wharton-Smith Inc., The Middlesex Corporation, Granite, and HSR Constructors. These five contractors are responsible for the development of 170 miles of new track into the completed state-of-the-art intermodal facility located in the new South Terminal at the Orlando International Airport.

Opening

Public operations between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale began Saturday, January 13, 2018. Services between West Palm Beach and Miami began on May 19, 2018.Reopening is scheduled on November 8, 2021 after the Covid pandemic suspended the service for a year.

Effect of the COVID-19 pandemic

Brightline suspended operations on March 25, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All train services were completely closed, and the company cut 250 jobs. Construction north to Orlando continued, as well as plans for the upcoming station in Boca Raton.

In January 2021, the company stated that service would begin again in "late 2021," contrary to their earlier estimate of the third quarter of 2021. The company says that most station and operations staff will be brought back approximately 30 to 60 days before service resumes. Between January and May 2021, the trains ran with no passengers occasionally in order to test an upgraded corridor between the West Palm Beach and Miami stations. Service resumed on November 8, 2021 between West Palm Beach and Miami, with the Orlando line approximately 70% complete.

Rolling stock‚Äč

All Aboard Florida ordered five Siemens trainsets in 2014. Each Brightline trainset initially consisted of four passenger coaches, with a Siemens Charger SCB-40 diesel-electric locomotive on each end. The coaches, with interiors designed by the LAB at Rockwell Group, feature ergonomic seating, Wi-Fi, level boarding and meet ADA compliance standards. Each trainset holds 248 passengers. Working with All Aboard Florida, the LAB also conceived the Brightline name, brand platform, and visual identity. The entire trainset, including passenger cars, were manufactured by Siemens in its solar-powered plant in Florin, California. Once the route to Orlando is in operation, the trainsets will be expanded to seven coaches, and five more complete trainsets will be purchased. The first of five trainsets departed the Siemens factory on December 8, 2016, and arrived in West Palm Beach on December 14. The fifth trainset arrived in South Florida in October 2017.

The trains offers two classes of service, with one "Select" coach and three "Smart" coaches on each trainset. "Select" offers 2x1 and four-to-a-table seating with 50 21-inch-wide seats per car and complimentary snacks and beverages, while the slightly less expensive "Smart" fare coaches seat 66 with narrower 19-inch-wide seats, with snacks and beverages available for purchase. Each trainset is able to hold 248 passengers.

Our Roundtrip

Elizabeth and I tried to get our tickets but had some trouble. It was not a straightforward ticket machine but a screen where you had to enter your name, e-mail and phone number, then choose your departure and arrival locations, as well as date and time of travel. A very nice security guard helped then led us to the X-ray machines where Elizabeth's handbag was scanned and I walked straight through.





The station departure board.





The station arrival board.





The large Miami sign in the station. We waited for the Select (business class) passengers to board before they let us, the Smart (regular) passengers to board. All seats are reserved when you make your reservation.





My first picture of a Brightline Siemens Charger SCB-40 engine, 105, which would power our train to West Palm Beach.





The train's engineer took our pictures with the train before we boarded.





The interior of a Smart coach.





Elizabeth was all smiles without her mask which she then put on.





The maskless author who then put hs mask back on.





The seatbacks have the Brightline emblem on them.





We departed Miami on time and passed some of high-priced apartments. On all trips, an employee with a cart walks through the train offering coffee, water and sodas (Pepsi products), all for a cost. For those travelling Select class, these are complimentary.





Crossing Little River.





Crossing the Biscayne Canal number C-8.





Crossing Little Arch Creek.





An unnamed lake along our route.





We crossed a branch of the Stranahan River before the train stopped in Fort Lauderdale, the mid-point station.





Crossing the New River.





This train's destination board.





All American Fort Lauderdale water tank.





Crossing a unnamed river in Coral Shores.





Crossing a canal from Lake Okeechobee.





A view of Hunters Run.





Two more overflows from Lake Okeechobee. The train arrived at West Palm Beach and we detrained.





Brightline Siemens Charger SCB-40 105.





Brightline Siemens Charger SCB-40 103 on the south end of our train. We then walked over to the escalator at the West Palm Beach station.





Looking at future track that will take me to Orlando.





The most unique bathroom that I have used. The tap was in the middle and the arms at the sides are the dryer. This is a Dyson product.





The benefits of a Dyson airblade dryer. We had about a half-an-hour layover and browsed the small store area on the second floor. To enter, you had to put your credit card in a slot then the doors opened. If you wanted to buy something, you picked it up and walked out of the other set of doors and the cost of the items were automatically put on the card. This removed the human contact and interaction of a cash register/checkout stand which we did not like. However, we did acquire a couple of snacks.





After the Select passengers were called, the Smart passengers could then board the next train to Miami.





You come down the escalator to the train. Now enjoy the views from a Brightline train to Miami.



















That was the trip back to Miami Central Station.





The Brightline emblems are everywhere in the station. The stations and trains are very clean, spacious and bright with comfortable seats. USB ports for charging electronics are between each seat. The coaches themselves feature large windows and a washroom at one end. Our ride was smooth and quiet and we enjoyed the round trip. We walked back to the Metrorail station to ride to Miami International Airport.



RETURN TO THE MAIN PAGE