(CTN News) – The inaugural test of privately-owned high-speed passenger train service in the United States is set to kick off this Friday, as Florida’s Brightline launches its trains between Miami and Orlando, boasting speeds of up to 125 mph (200 kph).
This endeavor represents a substantial $5 billion gamble by Brightline’s parent company, Fortress Investment Group, with their belief that a yearly ridership of 8 million individuals will embark on the 3.5-hour, 235-mile (378-kilometer) journey connecting Florida’s primary tourist destinations.
Brightline has structured its pricing at $158 round-trip for business class, $298 for first class, and an attractive option for families and groups – four round-trip tickets for $398. The daily schedule will feature 32 trains.
Brightline: Revolutionizing Intercity Passenger Rail Travel in the United States
Notably, Brightline, known for its distinctive neon-yellow trains, initially commenced service in 2018 for the 70-mile stretch between Miami and West Palm Beach.
It represents the first privately-owned intercity passenger service to debut in the United States in a century.
In addition to this Florida corridor, Brightline is in the process of constructing a rail line linking Southern California to Las Vegas, aiming for a 2027 launch with trains reaching speeds of up to 190 mph (305 kph).
As it stands, the sole other high-speed rail service in the United States is Amtrak’s Acela, operating between Boston and Washington, D.C., which commenced operations in 2000 and is federally owned.
Brightline CEO Mike Reininger emphasized the significance of this moment, whether considering its impact on Florida or the potential implications for similar ventures across the country.
He remarked, “The notion that my car is the sole means of transportation to reach my destination is being challenged by this innovative offering – one that prioritizes safety, environmental responsibility, affordability, and entertainment.”
The Florida trains, powered by biodiesel, will maintain varying speeds along their route, reaching up to 79 mph (127 kph) in urban areas, 110 mph (177 kph) in less densely populated regions, and a top speed of 125 mph (200 kph) as they traverse central Florida’s farmland.
Brightline has ambitious plans for potential extensions of its rail network to include Tampa and Jacksonville.
John Renne, who serves as the director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions, views the Miami-Orlando corridor as an ideal candidate for high-speed rail.
Approximately 40 million Floridians and visitors make this journey annually, with over 90% of them relying on cars for transportation.
Brightline’s Success Paves the Way for High-Speed Rail Expansion
The success of Brightline’s venture could pave the way for the establishment of additional high-speed rail connections between major cities situated 200 to 300 miles (320 to 480 kilometers) apart, both by Brightline and potential competitors.
Renne expressed excitement about South Florida being at the forefront of what could be a transformative shift in transportation, especially in high-speed rail transportation, across the United States.
One notable aspect of Brightline’s approach is its status as a privately-owned enterprise driven by profit motives. This has led to a strong emphasis on expeditiously completing the project to manage costs.
In contrast, Renne highlighted California’s government-led effort to build a high-speed rail system, which, despite being approved by voters in 2008, has faced substantial delays, cost overruns, and uncertainty regarding completion, including challenges related to finding a suitable route through mountainous terrain. Brightline’s planning commenced in 2012.
However, Brightline’s journey has not been without its setbacks. The COVID-19 pandemic forced a 17-month shutdown of the Miami-West Palm Beach line.
Additionally, a 2018 partnership with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group to rebrand Brightline as Virgin Trains USA quickly soured, leading to its termination in 2020, followed by a lawsuit filed by Virgin in London.
Legal Dispute Over Pandemic Impact on Virgin’s Reputation
The lawsuit revolves around Brightline’s assertion that Virgin’s reputation was tarnished due to pandemic-related issues. This legal case remains pending.
Another critical concern revolves around the safety of residents living near the train tracks. Brightline has encountered a high number of fatalities, with its trains being involved in 98 fatal incidents since the commencement of Miami-West Palm operations.
This equates to approximately one fatality for every 32,000 miles (51,500 kilometers) traveled by its trains, as per an ongoing analysis of federal data by the Associated Press, which began in 2019.
In comparison, the next-worst major railroad has a fatality approximately every 130,000 miles (209,200 kilometers).
Notably, none of these fatalities have been attributed to Brightline’s negligence, with most being attributed to suicides, motorists circumventing crossing gates, or pedestrians recklessly crossing tracks.
The company has not experienced a fatality since June, marking its longest stretch without such incidents, except during the pandemic shutdown. Nonetheless, the company’s fatality rate remains a significant concern for officials in areas slated for expansion.