Florida's Brightline lights the way towards fast, successful trains

Florida's new Brightline is a model for train service in the U.S. Featuring frequent, comfortable, modern trains, this entirely new service has already carried 1.5 million passengers in its first two years – with just three initial stations. Launched in 2018, it's the first privately-held intercity passenger railroad in the U.S. in nearly 40 years, and it has an aggressive expansion plan.

Brightline makes frequent departures a priority, offering 17 per day in both directions – and remember, initially only for Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.

Total travel time includes every stage of your journey – including waiting. So more trains = more options = shorter wait times = faster overall trips. And with hourly departures from the early morning to late in the evening, Brightline ensures its customers have the flexibility to make and change their plans without having to worry about the train schedule.

Modern trains

Brightline is using modern equipment for passenger comfort and smooth operation. Unified train sets make safe, easy passage between cars. Brightline operates with high-level platforms on tracks shared with freight trains, solving clearance issues with a bridge plate that extends from the train to the platform, allowing seamless, level boarding – no steps and ADA-friendly.

Direct airport connection

Brightline's new Orlando station is located in the Orlando International Airport and will arguably offer the most direct connection from an intercity rail line to an airport terminal in the United States. Brightline passengers will have pedestrian access from the train station to the new Terminal C being built on the south end of the airport as well as to the existing Terminals A and B via the elevated people mover system. This kind of convenient link between trains and planes is common in Europe and Asia and is a key factor in making both more successful.

Phased approach

Brightline is being built in phases to maximize revenue and capitalize on infrastructure improvements as they are completed. In early 2018, trains began serving Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. In 2022, service will be extended to Orlando International Airport, following a $4 billion expansion project. The company is now considering extending the line from the airport to Tampa with potential stops at Walt Disney World and in Lakeland as well as a link to Orlando's SunRail commuter train.

Phase 1: Miami - West Palm Beach

  • 65-mile shared use line with freight
  • 79 mph
  • Operations began 2018
  • 2019 ridership 885,000

Phase 2: West Palm Beach - Orlando International Airport

West Palm Beach - Cocoa

  • 120-mile upgraded shared use line
  • 110 mph
  • Under construction now, operational 2022

Cocoa – Orlando International Airport

  • 35-mile new dedicated high-speed line
  • 125 mph
  • Under construction now, operational 2022
  • Expected annual ridership 3+ million

Phase 3: Orlando International Airport - Tampa

  • 85-mile proposed dedicated line in the medians of I-4 and SR 417
  • 125 mph
  • Still in planning phases
A network of high-speed and shared-use lines

Brightline plans to reach as many riders as possible and also capitalize on existing infrastructure by running trains on a blend of conventional, upgraded, and dedicated high-speed track.

Today, Brightline trains share tracks with freight trains from Miami to West Palm Beach. The company is paying for track upgrades on that shared-use line from West Palm Beach north to Cocoa. Those improvements will allow Brightline to run up to 110 mph from West Palm Beach to Cocoa starting in 2022. Brightline trains will seamlessly exit the freight line at Cocoa and head west to Orlando International Airport on new, dedicated high-speed tracks under construction now.

Future service will extend from Orlando International Airport to Tampa on dedicated tracks in the median of I-4, which was widened in the late 2000s to accomodate high-speed trains.

Business model

Brightline's success is built in part on its cooperative relationship with Florida East Coast Railway, their host freight railroad. The two companies coordinate passenger and freight operations so trains run on time. This helps ensure Brightline's reliable frequency – a key selling point for travelers.

Brightline's parent company also owns and is developing real estate near the new stations to capitalize on concentrated travel activity. This revenue channel helps strengthen the company's long-term viability and appeal to investors, who are the financial foundation of the enterprise.

Brightline is funding its expansion primarily through a private activity bond allocation. These tax-exempt bonds issued through the Florida Development Finance Corporation helped attract billions of dollars in private capital, helping make Brightline more competitive with publicly-financed transportation systems like highways and airports, which are massively subsidized by taxpayers.

For the first time in many decades, a for-profit company is making a big bet on a fast, modern intercity rail system. If they succeed, Brightline will be a case study for making high-speed or higher-speed rail a real business proposition in other markets.

Benefits of statewide rail plan

Brightline benefited from legislation and planning that happened decades before the first trains started rolling. In the 1990s, the Florida Department of Transportation preserved the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando for high-speed trains. Orlando International Airport also reserved right-of-way through its property and included a railway station in its master plan.

This planning diagram prepared by the Florida High Speed Rail Authority shows how a high-speed line would fit into the I-4 median. Brightline will not install the electric wires.