Brightline

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Chris Stritzel
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Brightline

Post by Chris Stritzel »

I was in southeast Florida this past week and while I was down there, I took a ride on the Brightline and was very impressed by it. The whole experience puts Amtrak to shame really. From the stations, to the train car design, to interior design, to staff, to not yielding for freight trains, and to getting around in destination cities, Brightline does it right. I guess this is what you get when you have a private company take a swing at things.

MiamiCentral - Brightline's Home Station
This place is impressive. It's several blocks long and has a visually interesting design thanks to the zig-zags that make up the lower few floors and train platform levels. Ground level activation is great but isn't being taken full advantage of right now. I believe that once the retail spaces fill up, then it'll be a busier place sidewalk wise. The retail spaces may also get a boost thanks to ongoing nearby developments with Miami World Center, a parcel directly East of the Station, MiamiCentral expansion (two super towers located South of the station), and some miscellaneous apartment/condo/hotel/office buildings. On top, MiamiCentral has two residential towers - Parkline, and an office building (2 MiamiCentral). Another office building, 3 MiamiCentral, is located around the block and includes a Publix Grocery Store. The station was built by Brightline's parent company/operator Florida East Coast Industries.

MiamiCentral is easily accessible by the Metrorail System via the stop at Historic Overtown, or the Metromover via the stop at Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr.

Inside, the station has a smell of citrus. It's very clean too and has a lot of signage to direct you to where you need to go. Upstairs is the "Citizens Miami" Food Hall. To get to the trains, your bag goes through a quick scan at security and you're in. You use a barcode on your phone to gain access to the station area. Once there, you have a lounge, a bar, a "quick market" where there's no checkout lane, and then a premium lounge. Boarding is fairly easy as a station attendant announces which track the train you're boarding will be on and to go to the escalator that takes you up to track-level. From there, you board your train car and sit in your chosen, or assigned, seat.
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The Ride to West Palm Beach
Upon boarding the train, you're greeted with a nice interior design and the name of your train (in my case, Brightblue). There's a small sitting area outside of the main seating area and by the bathroom where you can make a phone call. The bathrooms themselves are clean. I sat in the "Smart" coach on this trip, which is comparable to your economy class. Brightline offers two classes - Smart and Premium. In Premium, you get a larger seat, more legroom, and free snacks and drinks but I found the seat size and legroom to be plentiful in Smart. Each seat pair includes 4 power outlets and two USB-C charging ports. LCD displays on the ceiling throughout the railcar advertised Brightline's services as well as the next destination.

The ride was quiet and smooth. The maximum speed is currently 79mph, but the smoothness of the ride makes it feel like you're going faster. Eventually, Brightline will operate at speeds of up to 125mph once the expansion to Orlando opens. According to a press release, Brightline will begin testing the stretch of the extension up to Cocoa with testing on the line to Orlando Airport beginning by the end of the year. In the future, the train might be extended to Disney World and Tampa as well as PortMiami. Along the ride, we passed by Brightline's next two stations - Aventura Mall and Boca Raton. Both are early in their construction process but will have a similar design to the West Palm Beach station.

West Palm Beach's station, like Fort Lauderdale's, is a miniature version of MiamiCentral. However, unlike Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach station includes its own "Parkline" apartment tower. the station is also located just around the corner from Related Southeast's Rosemary Square which includes shopping, dining, residential, work, and entertainment options. If you wish to go to Palm Beach, Brightline+ is a free service to get you there. It's a service to get you anywhere within a 5-mile radius of the station and will also pick you up if you need a ride back.
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Other Photos and Thoughts
I love the way the stations are lit up at night. Definitely are eyecatchers. Overall, I like the system and wish it was adopted in more places across the country. It really is nice despite not having much ridership. On my return trip back from West Palm Beach, there were 6 other passengers in my coach. On the way to West Palm Beach, as evidenced by the pictures, I was the only passenger in that coach. I guess it depends on when you ride as trains run every hour from the early morning to around 11PM. Station designs like West Palm Beach seem like they could easily be brought to the Amtrak network at some point. It's not too big of a station and includes everything you need when waiting.

Brightline is also currently more convenient for travelers to access than Amtrak or Trirail. Trirail, the Metro Area's commuter rail, will eventually go to MiamiCentral, but currently sits near the airport and away from areas where visitors will go. Amtrak is also shoved away from the activity.

I found Brightline+ to be a good feature and can see it being used more once ridership increases. Between the Metromover, Metrorail, Metrobus and Brightline+, getting around Downtown Miami, and into other neighborhoods, is pretty easy. It does shine in West Palm Beach if you want to get to the beach, but beyond that, I don't really see it being a good thing to have there as you can easily walk to nearby destinations. Same with Fort Lauderdale.

Lastly, since Amtrak will be getting the Venture railcars, which are basically the same as Brightline's, I have hope that those will be just as comfortable to ride in. Even though Amtrak has its problems with being on time and operating at somewhat faster speeds, getting new railcars into mix could help change perceptions of Amtrak. Just speed needs to be worked on.
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Anthony_Hugo98
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Re: Brightline

Post by Anthony_Hugo98 »

Great breakdown overall! I agree with the thoughts on Amtrak too. I still think the biggest issue with American rail systems, private or public, is the boarding process. Brightline does it better than Amtrak, but still not perfect. Hopefully they’ll grow into a better system at the mature.
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Re: Brightline

Post by DaveKCMO »

I LOVE BRIGHTLINE.

They obviously have the advantage of owning the tracks and being a new build. This kind of thing was not legal until PRIIA passed (Amtrak previously had a sanctioned monopoly on intercity passenger rail).
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Re: Brightline

Post by alejandro46 »

Such clean infrastructure and seamless transit experience. I just hope they can get profitable, COVID really hurt them. Would love to try it out if I'm ever in MIA. Hope they are able to be successful in LA-Vegas as well.
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Re: Brightline

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Chris Stritzel wrote: Fri Jan 14, 2022 7:35 pm MiamiCentral - Brightline's Home Station
This place is impressive. It's several blocks long and has a visually interesting design thanks to the zig-zags that make up the lower few floors and train platform levels. Ground level activation is great but isn't being taken full advantage of right now. I believe that once the retail spaces fill up, then it'll be a busier place sidewalk wise. The retail spaces may also get a boost thanks to ongoing nearby developments with Miami World Center, a parcel directly East of the Station, MiamiCentral expansion (two super towers located South of the station), and some miscellaneous apartment/condo/hotel/office buildings. On top, MiamiCentral has two residential towers - Parkline, and an office building (2 MiamiCentral). Another office building, 3 MiamiCentral, is located around the block and includes a Publix Grocery Store. The station was built by Brightline's parent company/operator Florida East Coast Industries.
A little bit more about those other projects...

To the South of MiamiCentral, two 850ft tall super towers with up to 2007 residential units will be built. These both feature ground level retail space. The project East, to be developed by a company called Witkoff, will include 2,195 residential units, 50,000sf of retail space, and 540,000sf of office space. So, that's 4202 new residential units in the immediate block around MiamiCentral. And that’s not including how many other units will sprout up at World Center a few blocks away.
https://www.thenextmiami.com/witkoff-pl ... ject-ever/
https://www.thenextmiami.com/miami-asks ... pertowers/
Last edited by Chris Stritzel on Sat Jan 15, 2022 3:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Chris Stritzel
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Re: Brightline

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Anthony_Hugo98 wrote: Fri Jan 14, 2022 7:55 pm Great breakdown overall! I agree with the thoughts on Amtrak too. I still think the biggest issue with American rail systems, private or public, is the boarding process. Brightline does it better than Amtrak, but still not perfect. Hopefully they’ll grow into a better system at the mature.
This boarding process wasn't that bad. They just don't want any random people going up to the platform and boarding early. The reason I was given was because of safety and cleaning the train a bit before the next passengers arrive. And since not many people were riding, it was as easy as could be. I imagine once the system gets busier, as a result of the extensions, they'll fine tune the process.
DaveKCMO wrote: Fri Jan 14, 2022 9:34 pm I LOVE BRIGHTLINE.

They obviously have the advantage of owning the tracks and being a new build. This kind of thing was not legal until PRIIA passed (Amtrak previously had a sanctioned monopoly on intercity passenger rail).
Interesting. I didn't know this type of thing was illegal up until fairly recently.
alejandro46 wrote: Fri Jan 14, 2022 10:24 pm Such clean infrastructure and seamless transit experience. I just hope they can get profitable, COVID really hurt them. Would love to try it out if I'm ever in MIA. Hope they are able to be successful in LA-Vegas as well.
I was surprised to learn they shut down for a year and a half because of COVID, but it makes sense. No tourists to take the trains + lack of locals needing to travel between the cities hurt them. I think things will be on the up for them from here on out. Brightline+ might help plus being on-time, safe, and clean will go a long way in setting their reputation. Perhaps the biggest thing that needs to be fixed is the insanely high amount of car crashes/pedestrian fatalities from locals cutting around the crossing gates and the train hitting them. The media words some of these stories as if the train is at fault instead of the drivers or people who ended up in that situation because of their actions.

I'm not sure how long this deal will go on for, but if you make a Brightline account, your first ride is on them. So, my roundtrip was $22. Normally it would be $44. Even if I did pay full price, it seems like a good price to get from Point A to Point B in about an hour.
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Re: Brightline

Post by brewcrew1000 »

I really think this train will be a huge hit with European tourists who are traveling to Florida in greater numbers and don't really want to deal with a car. Florida traffic is getting worse every year. We did Orlando without a car and it was pretty easy. The traffic is awful.
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Re: Brightline

Post by shinatoo »

How do they make money with this level of service, and a subsidized Amtrak can't approach this level of service?
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Re: Brightline

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shinatoo wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 5:57 pm How do they make money with this level of service, and a subsidized Amtrak can't approach this level of service?
My understanding is that the parent company, Florida East Coast Industries, owns the Parkline Apartment Buildings at MiamiCentral and West Palm Beach along with additional office space, retail space, and real estate throughout the Miami Metro area. The revenue from those things goes towards keeping Brightline afloat.
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Re: Brightline

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Chris Stritzel wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 6:03 pm
shinatoo wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 5:57 pm How do they make money with this level of service, and a subsidized Amtrak can't approach this level of service?
My understanding is that the parent company, Florida East Coast Industries, owns the Parkline Apartment Buildings at MiamiCentral and West Palm Beach along with additional office space, retail space, and real estate throughout the Miami Metro area. The revenue from those things goes towards keeping Brightline afloat.
Do they receive any funding from the freight element of FECRR? Or is that merely a subsidiary of the FECI?
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Chris Stritzel
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Re: Brightline

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Anthony_Hugo98 wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 8:40 pm Do they receive any funding from the freight element of FECRR? Or is that merely a subsidiary of the FECI?
The railway is owned by Grupo Mexico and used to be owned by Fortress Investment Group, which is the parent company of Florida East Coast Industries, which operates Brightline. The revenue from the sale of the Railway to Grupo Mexico went towards Brightline and other interests of Fortress and FEC Industries. Grupo Mexico bought the FEC Railway for $2.1 Billion in 2017.
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Re: Brightline

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shinatoo wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 5:57 pm How do they make money with this level of service, and a subsidized Amtrak can't approach this level of service?
It's all about the air rights. All three cities are hot right now, and Brightline's banker bros aka Goldman Sachs, leveraged the train station rights-of-way into big condo high-rises. Related Companies (a competitor) just paid through the nose to put up two smaller condo towers in downtown West Palm Beach but in a less desirable part (north of Clematis).

Also, the farebox isn't exactly cheap. I live in PB, and before COVID we would take Brightline for the 75 miles to Miami ("MiamiCentral" -- it's not really downtown Miami which most peeps think of Brickell, but more like north downtown Miami -- still plenty to do there with the Perez and the AA arena). Anyhow, two tickets roundtrip in biz were $150 or $100 in coach. You get multiple cocktail runs in biz class, so that was the value proposition. An Uber to Miami is $120-150 each way as a comparison, and you have to deal with I-95 traffic.

Our cheap, commuter rail alternative is called "Tri-Rail" and it runs right into the Miami airport which is about 10 miles west of downtown. That is super convenient, even though it takes two hours from West Palm Beach versus one hour on the Brightline.
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Re: Brightline

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https://www.thenextmiami.com/brightline ... ic-levels/

Sounds like things are looking up, although winter is the busy season. The expansion to Orlando would be really amazing to drive demand for people to be able to visit Disney from Miami without having to deal with traffic and parking.
According to a monthly report released by the company, ridership accelerated in late November and early December, nearing pre-pandemic levels.

Customers have already opened 50,000 Brightline accounts in November and December, exceeding expectations.

Brightline resumed service on November 8, after halting operations in 2020 during the pandemic.

A total of 61,045 passengers rode Brightline in November, with an average fare of $9.55, generating ticket revenue of around $600,000. Promotional offers during the month cut the average ticket price to around half what it was in November 2019.

Here’s the latest on some of Brightline’s other activity in the past month:
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Re: Brightline

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Update: Brightline trains are now testing into Brevard County on a portion of the Orlando extension corridor. The Boca Raton station broke ground today as well. The two supertowers at MiamiCentral were also approved.

Brightline West, the line that will connect Los Angeles to Las Vegas, is beginning the federal review process. They hope to start construction on that in early 2023 and open in 2026. Speeds are expected to top out at 200mph on this route.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsma ... 6c54bb6238

Overall, I'd say it's been a positive week for Brightline.
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Re: Brightline

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Chris Stritzel wrote: Tue Jan 25, 2022 2:36 pm Update: Brightline trains are now testing into Brevard County on a portion of the Orlando extension corridor. The Boca Raton station broke ground today as well. The two supertowers at MiamiCentral were also approved.

Brightline West, the line that will connect Los Angeles to Las Vegas, is beginning the federal review process. They hope to start construction on that in early 2023 and open in 2026. Speeds are expected to top out at 200mph on this route.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsma ... 6c54bb6238

Overall, I'd say it's been a positive week for Brightline.
I’m wondering if they’re gonna take a shot at operating on the Texas Central line once that gets up and running, and merely lease the track and platform space from the TX Central group
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Re: Brightline

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Anthony_Hugo98 wrote: Tue Jan 25, 2022 2:38 pm
Chris Stritzel wrote: Tue Jan 25, 2022 2:36 pm Update: Brightline trains are now testing into Brevard County on a portion of the Orlando extension corridor. The Boca Raton station broke ground today as well. The two supertowers at MiamiCentral were also approved.

Brightline West, the line that will connect Los Angeles to Las Vegas, is beginning the federal review process. They hope to start construction on that in early 2023 and open in 2026. Speeds are expected to top out at 200mph on this route.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsma ... 6c54bb6238

Overall, I'd say it's been a positive week for Brightline.
I’m wondering if they’re gonna take a shot at operating on the Texas Central line once that gets up and running, and merely lease the track and platform space from the TX Central group
I'm wondering if Brightline and Texas Central should just form a joint venture right out of the gate. Brightline has a pretty good operation going for them right now and, depending on the success of Brightline West, could really launch them into a rail category that hasn't been seen in decades.

There have been some recent advancements on the Texas Central project, but they're not all that good. A September 2021 story where the CEO said it's unlikely construction would start within 6 months (meaning their preferred start time of late 2021/early 2022 would likely not be achieved). Couple that with the desire to get $12 Billion federal loans from the infrastructure bill and you have a little while longer to wait (project costs $24 Billion). Most recently, the project is before the Texas Supreme Court over Eminent Domain issues. Ken Paxton, Texas's Attorney General, is throwing his support behind the landowner potentially hurting this project. That is currently ongoing.

I guess these are just hurdles a private railway has to deal with but even with these hurdles, it's still likely we'll see Texas Central and Brightline West operating before California's highspeed rail even starts revenue operations.
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Re: Brightline

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Chris Stritzel wrote: Tue Jan 25, 2022 5:45 pm
Anthony_Hugo98 wrote: Tue Jan 25, 2022 2:38 pm
Chris Stritzel wrote: Tue Jan 25, 2022 2:36 pm Update: Brightline trains are now testing into Brevard County on a portion of the Orlando extension corridor. The Boca Raton station broke ground today as well. The two supertowers at MiamiCentral were also approved.

Brightline West, the line that will connect Los Angeles to Las Vegas, is beginning the federal review process. They hope to start construction on that in early 2023 and open in 2026. Speeds are expected to top out at 200mph on this route.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsma ... 6c54bb6238

Overall, I'd say it's been a positive week for Brightline.
I’m wondering if they’re gonna take a shot at operating on the Texas Central line once that gets up and running, and merely lease the track and platform space from the TX Central group
I'm wondering if Brightline and Texas Central should just form a joint venture right out of the gate. Brightline has a pretty good operation going for them right now and, depending on the success of Brightline West, could really launch them into a rail category that hasn't been seen in decades.

There have been some recent advancements on the Texas Central project, but they're not all that good. A September 2021 story where the CEO said it's unlikely construction would start within 6 months (meaning their preferred start time of late 2021/early 2022 would likely not be achieved). Couple that with the desire to get $12 Billion federal loans from the infrastructure bill and you have a little while longer to wait (project costs $24 Billion). Most recently, the project is before the Texas Supreme Court over Eminent Domain issues. Ken Paxton, Texas's Attorney General, is throwing his support behind the landowner potentially hurting this project. That is currently ongoing.

I guess these are just hurdles a private railway has to deal with but even with these hurdles, it's still likely we'll see Texas Central and Brightline West operating before California's highspeed rail even starts revenue operations.
That’s a sad thing too, is the CHSR wasn’t even a rail building issue, it was mostly a government bureaucracy issue coupled with political favoritism with routing issue, lawsuits, and multiple transparency issues. Lately it seems like they’ve hit a good stride, but holy hell are they slow.
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