Brightline launches, eyes expansion to other states

After years of anticipation and predictions that the project would ultimately fail to materialize, the first train from America's first new private passenger rail system in a century, left the station at 9:35 am on Friday, January 12th. However, despite initial service being limited to a 40-minute trip between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Brightline officials are already eyeing massive expansion possibilities.

A Palm Beach Post video from a Friday, January 12, 2018 invitation-only media preview.

"Our vision doesn't stop here. Our goal is to look at other corridors with similar characteristics — too long to drive, too short to fly."

Wes Edens, co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, Brightline’s parent company

Brightline officials believe their $3.1 billion passenger high speed intercity rail system must capture 2% of the 100 million annual trips between South Florida and Orlando to be viable. In comparison, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor captures 12% of the annual trips between New York and Washington.

As reported by Modern Cities in the past, the privately funded passenger rail system has already expressed its intentions for expansion into Tampa and Jacksonville. Reiterating those plans prior to last week’s launch, Wes Edens, co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, Brightline’s parent company, explained their unique opportunity to expand to Florida’s remaining large cities. Expansion to Jacksonville comes with the advantage of operating on existing Florida East Coast Railway corridor already co-owned by Brightline. While service to Orlando won’t likely start before 2020, an extension from Orlando to Tampa would possibly take advantage of the Interstate 4 corridor. After the opening of the Orlando segment, additional stops could be added in Brevard County, the Treasure Coast, Vero Beach and Stuart.

Atlanta is a city that Brightline may be considering for future expansion opportunities.

Brightline is also considering taking their passenger rail concept to other regions across the country. Believing the model could be replicated between congested cities, the rail company is also looking at the possibility of links between Atlanta and Charlotte, Houston and Dallas and between Dallas and Austin.

Initial fares between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale are $10 each way for Smart Service, Brightline’s coach class, and $15 for Select Service, Brightline’s business class. Seniors, active military and veterans will receive a 10 percent discount, and children younger than 12 will ride for half price as part of discounted introductory fares.

Video from a Friday, January 12, 2018 invitation-only media preview ride.

As for now, the railroad’s most pressing plans are to extend service to Downtown Miami later this year. In the meantime, initial coach class fares between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale are $10 each way and $15 for business class seats. Children under the age of 12 ride for a 50% discount and 10% discounts are available for seniors, active military and veterans.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of Metro and — two websites dedicated to promoting fiscally sustainable communities — and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at