Florida’s Brightline kicks off passenger rail service to Orlando

October 4, 2023

Brightline—a 235-mile intercity passenger rail service—began service to Orlando, Florida, on September 22 with the opening of the privately owned line’s recently completed extension from West Palm Beach. Over 500 stakeholders, including elected officials, and business leaders, viewed the first train’s 11:05 a.m. arrival, reports Smart Cities Dive.

Passengers can now travel the line between Miami and the new station at Orlando International Airport, with intermediate stops in Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach. The train completes the total route in 3.5 hours or less, depending on the number of stops.

According to Brightline, the $6 billion Miami-Orlando project created 10,000 jobs and brought approximately $6.4 billion in direct economic benefit to the region. The Florida project was funded by $5 billion in private investments.

“Over the last century, America has perfected the automobile and pioneered space exploration, but we’ve barely budged in terms of passenger rail,” says Wes Edens, co-founder of Brightline owner Fortress Investment Group.

Intercity passenger trains are largely the province of Amtrak, which is supported by state subsidies, federal grants, and annual appropriations from Congress in addition to ticket sales and other revenue. The Brightline Florida project was funded by $5 billion in private investments.

Brightline began service along the initial portion of the Florida route between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2018, but it shut down for 17 months during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The railroad carried more than 1.2 million riders in 2022 following its reopening in November 2021. Construction on the extension began in 2019.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer comments, “This new service is a transformational step forward in the future of transportation in our community and just the beginning as we continue to work to expand and advance our mobility options and network.”

Brightline operates 16 trainsets in Florida that are capable of speeds up to 125 mph. The trainsets are built in Sacramento, California, by Siemens Mobility.

Senator Rick Scott (R-Florida) said in a statement that the opening of the Orlando station “shows that Florida was right to embrace private rail partners and is great news for Florida families, businesses, and the over one hundred million tourists who visit our state each year.”

Brightline is also looking to build a $12 billion high-speed rail line connecting Las Vegas and Southern California, with construction possibly starting later this year. Brightline West will be “the nation’s first true high-speed rail network with fully electric trains operating at top speeds of 200 mph,” the company said in a press release.

California’s taxpayer-funded high-speed rail project, which began construction in 2015 and is expected to enter service sometime between 2030 and 2033; is now estimated to cost $32 billion for the 171-mile Merced to Bakersfield segment, which is partially under construction.

Research contact: @SmartCitiesDive