“Florida has North America’s best passenger rail service.” That was my thought after riding Florida East Coast Railway’s Brightline passenger rail service which runs between Miami and West Palm Beach. Unfortunately, I also experienced what it’s like to be delayed when a Brightline train hits a trespasser, which is unfortunately a frequent occurrence.
Fort Lauderdale Station to Miami Central
Fort Lauderdale is a small city about 35 minutes drive from downtown Miami (in good traffic). Brightline schedules this trip in 68 minutes. Brightline Fort Lauderdale station is located beside the Broward County Transit Center, the major bus terminal in Fort Lauderdale.
However, reaching the rail station from the bus terminal is a bit of a chore on foot. It’s clear that Fort Lauderdale station was built with the idea that passengers will arrive primarily by car. Unfortunately this is to be expected in a state that embraces the car as much as Florida has. It took around 5 minutes to walk the one block from the bus terminal to the Brightline station.
The station itself is large, bright, and airy in yellow and white tones. Passengers take an escalator to the upper level where there are a row of gates. To enter, you simply scan your ticket QR code, put your luggage through an x-ray scanner and that’s it. There is no personal security check, scanner, or pat down. Once past Security, there are many seats available, a bar serving drinks and snacks, and a cashless gift shop where you simply scan your credit card and grab what you want. I picked up a wooden Brightline train set.
For Premium tickets holders, a separate lounge is available. The lounge is stocked with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, a selection of meats, cheese, crackers, and shrimp. For $37 USD, you’re getting decent value for your money. Even the Smart Coach ticket price one way of $22 USD is good value.
As I was enjoying the lounge and taking full advantage of the good selection of beers, I heard an announcement that I didn’t want to hear:
“Due to a trespasser on the tracks, the 19:38 train to Miami is delayed.”
Gah! This was not good. Florida East Coast Railway (FEC)’s rail corridor runs through a densely populated area and has no fencing whatsoever. It is extremely easy for people to cross the track, and unfortunately trespassers are killed fairly regularly by Brightline trains.
It’s about Customer Service
I was thinking “how long would I have to wait, or worse. How am I getting to Miami without using an expensive cab?”
Happily, this is where Brightline really shines. Their customer service is top notch. After the announcement, staff came around and let everyone know what was happening. The staff assured me that Brightline will get me to Miami, and my free ride to my hotel will be honoured with either a Uber or Lyft credit. I told the rep I don’t use Uber (the surprise on his face was priceless!), he assured me that they can order one for me regardless. After about 20 minutes waiting around and taking advantage of the lounge, we were told to go downstairs outside the station where a motor coach was waiting to take us to Miami Central. I was bit worried the trip might take a while due to Miami’s infamous traffic, but traffic on Highway I-95 was light and we arrived at Miami in 25 minutes. As promised, Brightline booked me a ride to my hotel. I was disappointed I wasn’t able to ride Brightline this time, but the customer service was top notch, and I had a week in Miami. So I booked a one way trip to West Palm Beach a couple of days later.
Miami to West Palm Beach
I bought a one way ticket from Miami to West Palm Beach with plans to take the 18 station Tri-Rail commuter rail line back to Miami. I bought a Premium ticket, so I could take advantage of the free taxi service to Miami Central. This is a perk that justifies the fairly high Premium ticket cost . Taxis in Miami are not cheap, and it would’ve cost around $20 to reach Miami Central from my hotel.
Miami Central is a very large station that is part of an even larger real estate development. The station is hard to miss from a distance. Miami Central is an intermodal station linking the Metrorail elevated heavy rail line, the Metromover people mover, and future Tri-Rail commuter train service, but pedestrians will find it’s not very easy to find the entrances to the Metrorail station, and the future Tri-Rail entrance is four minute walk from the Brightline entrance. The area around the station is still car-oriented, which is typical for most American cities.
Miami Central Brightline station is similar to Fort Lauderdale, except larger. Passengers ascend to an upper level, scan their tickets, have bags x-rayed, and proceed to the waiting area. Likewise, there is a bar and waiting area for Select ticket holders, and Premium Ticket holders have access to a private lounge. I was taking a morning train, so breakfast was served, which consisted of cereal, yogurt, bagels, various meats, and non-alcoholic drinks. Even a Lavazza espresso/capuccino maker! The breakfast was good, again… Considering how expensive Miami is, a free taxi and breakfast make the Premium Ticket a good value.
Boarding was called ten minutes before departure, and I went up another level to reach the platform. No need to line up and there is no ticket checking, unlike Amtrak and Canada’s VIA Rail. As I rode the escalator up, I heard the sound of the Siemens Charger. Woo! It was happening! No cancellations this time!
Brightline trains are four car Venture coach sets with a Siemens Charger locomotive on each end. The Smart coaches have 2×2 seating and seat 66, while the Premium coaches have 2×1 seating and seat 50. The Smart coach seats are 19 inches wide, while premium seats are 21 inches wide. I tried both and found both to be very comfortable to sit in for what is a somewhat short (80 minute) trip. The attendant came around to offer snacks and drinks a few times during the trip. That was impressive, considering the trip is fairly short, about 80 minutes.
We departed on time, the acceleration was smooth, so much so that I barely noticed we were moving. We picked up speed quickly and we soon traveling at 100km. Looking outside, I saw a couple of people casually walking close to the tracks – It’s astounding that people can be so careless around trains.
Final thoughts on Brightline’s Initial Segment
Brightline provides a great passenger experience and is a model Amtrak and VIA Rail can learn from. There was no requirement to line up 20 minutes before departure, as is the case at major Amtrak and VIA stations. Brightline customer service is top notch, we were continually updated about the situation involving the trespass incident. Its lounges are excellent, much better than the Business Class lounges that VIA and Amtrak offer. The onboard amenities were basic, but considering the longest trip on Brightline is currently 80 minutes, there isn’t a need to offer full service.
Comparison of Brightline Florida with UK First Class train travel is left as an exercise for the reader.
New Orlando Brightline station
Brightline formally unveiled its Orlando International Airport station in April, in advance of its summer extension of its Miami – West Palm Beach service. Brightline announced that one-way single fares between Miami and Orlando would start from $79 for Smart class and $149 for Premium, plus a Family Smart rate for up to four at $199.
This follows double-tracking of the existing Florida East Coast Railway between West Palm Beach and Cocoa for 125 km/h operation, and the completion of a 60 km line between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport for 200 km/h. This will allow Brightline to run a planned 16 trains each way per day, at a broadly hourly service. Non-stop trains will have an end-to-end trip time of 3h, while all stop services will take 3h 30min.
The theme parks (Walt Disney World, Seaworld) around Orlando are a 20 minute drive away. Public transit from Brightline Orlando station to downtown and the city’s theme parks is not the best, and might take over 1.5 hours by bus. Test running for this extension is in the final stages of certification and crew training. Brightline is already thinking further afield, with plans to extend close to Walt Disney World and the International Drive corridor, thence on to Tampa.
The ubiquitous RMTransit looks at the Brightline rail lines as high speed railways, including their Los Angeles – Las Vegas line in design phase.
How did Brightline build it?
Looking into the development of this railway, it is clear that the company had taken advantage of numerous government funds and incentives. Nought wrong with that. However, rail observer Johnny Renton investigated deeply into the history and activities of the company, including not building grade separated road crossings on the line. As a result, there have been dozens of collisions of Brightline trains with motorists ignoring or bypassing the gates at level crossings. As well as the aforementioned absolute lack of trackside fencing, which has lead to dozens crossing the line between neighbourhoods being killed by trains. No public train service in a developed country would be allowed to build or operate such a deadly railway line. This is a private railway with little regard for human life – something seen in third world countries.
This article was not written or assisted by AI.
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