Florida’s brightest idea is the inter-city, eco-friendly Brightline railway, a high-speed train serving the Atlantic coast tourist corridor. The company marked a milestone in September 2023 by extending rail service from Miami to Orlando.
That achievement has made Brightline the most convenient and sustainable travel option to tour Florida’s major tourist landmarks for millions of fly-in visitors. For now, speed and comfort are the allure.
The Brightline Rail Experience
Imagine leaving the vast Miami International Airport by the Metrorail Orange Line. Brightline’s first — yet still futuristic looking — station at MiamiCentral is an 11-acre, mixed-use development in the heart of downtown. Tourists appreciate that it’s located by the Perez Art Museum near Biscayne Bay. While waiting for the train, families peruse shops and the Central Fare food court featuring several local celebrity chefs. Residential units top the station.
Heading to the top family beach resorts? From Miami’s downtown Government Center Metrorail station to Fort Lauderdale via Brightline takes just 30 minutes. Going to the theme parks? Zip north from Miami to Orlando in 3-3½ hours without sitting in freeway traffic.
Why Passengers Are Ready For Highspeed Rail
At a Wall St. Journal “Future of Everything” event, Michael Reininger, CEO of Brightline, outlined the company’s recent history. He noted that the first highspeed train in America was showcased at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and added, after six decades, “Brightline is right on time.”
Mr. Reininger cited some historic reasons why the US was behind the rest of the world in developing these trains. He said several factors contributed to Brightline’s current success. First, consumers now pay attention to their carbon footprint. Second, sustainable travel has become a desirable goal for all ages. And last but perhaps most important, people prioritize their cellphones and, on a train, they never have to disconnect from cellular service.
It’s now much easier to get to a Brightline station because rideshare services have proliferated, helping to solve what’s called the Last Mile Problem faced by most public transportation. And another recent boost to high speed rail came from the Federal government’s $66 billion allocation to support rail networks within the Infrastructure Bill.
Brightline’s growth, Reininger said, relies on a seamless experience from arrival at the station to disembarkation. “Our goal,” he adds, “is to make people aware of a smarter way to do things.“
How Brightline Trains Support Sustainable Tourism
The original founders’ vision of an environmentally friendly, 235-mile route from Miami to Orlando began intercity service between West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach in 2018. The initial funds plus more than 5 billion dollars in private investment have enabled 16 trains, six stations, an Orlando stop and for 2024, a Tampa station. Altogether, they make travel through Florida easier and more sustainable.
Brightline Helps Travelers Avoid Highway Traffic
To put this achievement in context, picture yourselves sitting in a 5-hour traffic jam on I-95 between Miami Airport and Walt Disney World. You can now avoid that.
There are only a few other ways to get to Orlando from Miami. Flying is not practical. The wealthy are able to hire a private car service. Families on a budget can take the erratic Amtrak train – unreliable. Or, ride south Florida’s dreadful long-distance buses for a very slow and miserably uncomfortable experience.
Eco-Friendly Brightline Reduces Greenhouse Gases
Among the company’s biggest potential benefits are a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, because an estimated three million vehicles will be taken off the roads each year. More specifically, Brightline’s FPL biodiesel fueled trains have the potential for a reduction of 11,645 metric tonsof CO2 compared to car emissions.
Passenger Growth Means Less Fuel Consumption
Reininger said recently that Brightline is forecasting about 8 million short haul passengers and about 3 million going the full length from Miami to Orlando.
“People loves trains and kids really love trains and then there are the people who are all about trains,” he added in his Future of Travel session.
The company already does a robust business transporting residents to and from sports arenas for big games and concerts. Additionally, they are seeing passengers commute between Palm Beach and Miami for work.
Brightline Is A Sustainable Travel Option But Not Really A High-Speed Train
Coral Gables, Florida is a fitting home for a company that is using Henry Flagler’s old Florida-East Coast rail lines to run its service. Many of the original ca. 1912 tracks now being leased by Metrorail and Amtrak were refurbished so that the high-speed trains could reach so-called “Higher Speeds” between 79mph and 125mph.
The beauty of the system using existing tracks is that it links with three currently operating public transit rail systems to create integrated multimodal hubs. The downside is that Brightline’s elegant slim build can never overcome the track quality to compete with Japan’s famous bullet trains.
Let’s Examine Brightline’s Safety Record
We asked Google Bard, the company’s artificial intelligence engine, to tell me about Brightline. The AI Engine noted the company had issues with its safety record and high ticket prices.
Brightline’s safety record is indeed troubling, with a reported 98 fatalities since the inception of service. Brightline, Reininger quickly noted, was not found at fault in any of the incidents. Victims have been pedestrians or cyclists crossing the tracks, and cars which went around railroad gates. Reininger also countered that safety statistics are misleading because trains are so much safer than other transport systems.
Brightline acknowledges that for their trains to run safely through a densely populated area, they must create a safe rail corridor. They are working to improve safety by implementing new employee training and safety technology.
What Does Brightline Cost And Are There Deals?
Passenger fares are comparable to Amtrak and Brightline has two classes: Smart or Premium. Premium cars are configured with two seats on one side and one on the other, and lower-priced Smart cars have two and two seating.
When we priced a mid-November round trip between Miami and Orlando, the Brightline Smart fare began at $79 and the Amtrak regular fare was $78. Brightline’s Premium or First Class, a service with roomier seats, free food, beverages and lounge access, started at $149. Amtrak offered a private room with meals included from $280. Kids go for half price with each paying adult on both rail services, fortunate for the eco-conscious family.
Check the Brightline offers page for summer specials and pets and bikes go free offers. Take advantage of the Brightline app to book tickets, reserve seats and get schedule updates. The contactless technology and service have helped Brightline succeed with business commuters who can work onboard. And their companies appreciate that’s it’s the most eco-friendly alternative in Florida.
Brightline Is Environmentally Friendly But Is It Worth The Ride?
Many riders think eco-friendly Brightline is well worth the cost. Expect modern, comfortable stations with waiting areas and business lounges for Premium passengers. Passengers have access now to onboard bike and luggage storage racks and, eventually, there will be a dining car.
Other amenities include WiFi, food and beverage carts, and USB, USB-C and power outlets at each seat. Each rail car is fully accessible, pet-friendly, and has touch-free washrooms to maintain hygienic conditions.
We think it’s a game-changer for international tourists who prefer not to rent a car. If that’s you, don’t worry about getting around. South Florida has plenty of rideshare options such as Uber and Lyft when you want to visit the Everglades or tour an alligator farm. Many hotels offer courtesy shuttles to Brightline stations, theme parks and shopping areas.
Brightline offers mass transit shuttles to airports and reduced rate parking to locals as well. If you can’t avoid a rental car, the Brightline site features discount rental car offers from its partners and you can select an e-vehicle.
Carbon Neutral Brightline West Aims To Transform Rail Service
Brightline West, a new project by the same ownership group, plans to connect Los Angeles with Las Vegas by 2028, in time for the LA Summer Olympics. Reports says the new high-speed train will run down the I-15 Freeway between Rancho Cucamonga and Las Vegas in about half the time it takes to drive.
The company is using what it learned in Florida to build fully electronic trains traveling at 200+ mph on brand new tracks. The engineering challenge out West is that this Brightline will have to cross mountain passes and high dessert on its route. Brightline’s CEO Reininger claims it will be the greenest rail system in the world.
The future is bright for high-speed rail, he notes, but due to their high cost, the ideal markets are busy routes that are too short to fly and too long to drive. (This is about a 250 to 300 mile range.)
Is high-speed rail service across America in our future?
We can’t predict that. Yet just being able to avoid Florida’s I-95 traffic is enough to excite most families.
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