Southeast Florida’s unique Brightline passenger-train service began operations to and from Miami last weekend with sold-out trains, but a timetable for starting work on a new phase between West Palm Beach and Orlando has yet to be announced.
“We had more than 8,000 guests in our station and on-board our trains,” Ali Soule, a spokesman for the privately owned and operated passenger line, said Thursday.
Brightline expects extension of service to Miami to substantially boost the usefulness of its trains, which for the first four months of operation ran only between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
The extended service has an 80-minute scheduled travel time between Miami and West Palm Beach, including a three-minute stop in Fort Lauderdale, with eight train trips per day in each direction.
Brightline, operating on tracks belonging to the Florida East Coast Railway, is the first privately developed intercity passenger-train line in the United States in more than half a century. Passenger-rail advocates hope that if successful, Brightline could become a model for developing similar train corridors elsewhere in the United States, including the Midwest.
Its creators believe it can compete for passengers in densely populated southeast Florida by offering a luxurious experience aboard fast, reliable trains.
The section now in operation, however, has a top speed of just 79 mph. Brightline plans to operate trains on the West Palm Beach-Orlando section at up to 110 mph south of Cocoa, Fla., and up to 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando. Such would allow a total running time of about three hours between Miami and Orlando — competitive with driving or air travel between those cities.
A start date for construction along that second phase, which would include upgrades to FEC track and equipment south of Cocoa and new railroad from Cocoa to Orlando, remains to be announced.
Opponents from coastal areas north of West Palm Beach through which the trains would pass without stopping continue to object on grounds of safety, inconvenience, and noise.
South of West Palm Beach, “quiet zones” have been instituted in recent weeks at FEC railroad crossings in several communities.
In those areas, “four-quadrant” crossing gates have been installed so that streets become completely barricaded when trains approach. Train engineers thus are not required to blow their horns approaching the crossings, although they still may do so if they observe people or vehicles near the tracks.