“High Speed Rail” is a relative term. In the EU to be called “High Speed” a train must be able to travel either 155 MPH (250 KPH) over purpose-built track or 125 MPH (200 KPH) over standard rail lines. The Brightline “High speed” travels at 79 miles per hour (127bKPH) between West Palm Beach and Miami, except a lot of time it is slower than that because of a lot of grade crossings. And it may be the only high speed rail that crosses a draw bridge. Perhaps it should be termed a “Higher Speed Train.”
Virgin Trains (yes that Virgin) operates the trains is building an extension of the line to Orlando that will actually run 125 MPH. Future plans have the train running on to Tampa on one end and the Miami cruise port on the other. Compare this to Amtrak’s Acela Express which can travel 150 MPH over about 34 miles of its 457-mile run and averages a speed of 84 MPH over its entire run.
Brightline is powered by a Siemens SCB Charger locomotive with a Cummins Diesel that runs on biofuel. It is similar to engines running the Cascade in the Pacific Northwest. Each train set has 4 cars. The route carries just short of 600,000 passengers a year.
I got to ride both the Acela Express and Brightline in the last two months. The I rode Acela to get to a meeting in DC while visiting Jersey. Suzi and I rode Brightline just because I wanted to. Brightline’s ride is smoother, the train is cleaner and the service is better with carts running up and down the isles serving you rather than you having to trek to the snack car over bouncy track.
What surprised me most about Brightline is the number of people on the train, there were a lot on both the Fort Lauderdale to Miami run and on the return. The 4 cars were more than 2/3 full, it seemed fuller than Acela. To get a picture of the car I had to wait until most of the people got off in Miami. While a lot of people were traveling the station never seemed crowded.
The stations are modern and comfortable with spacious departure lounges and baggage check in areas although the classic Newark Penn station and Washington’s Union Station are more interesting. (New York’s Penn station is unmentionable). The Lauderdale station is “not in a good neighborhood,” as several locals told me, and getting a yellow taxi to come took about a half hour from the call to when the cab arrived. Almost everyone else getting off wither had a car parked in the adjacent garage, an Uber pick up or went off on a little electric scooter.
We went “Select Class” to Miami and “Smart Class” back. The coaches are identical but for an extra $15 in “Select” you get a special section of the lounge with beer, wine, soft drinks, mineral water and Luna Bars included. On the train you get the same beverage service plus Kind bars and a light meal. We both chose humus, pita and olives, although we could have had a meat and cheese plate. The trip to Miami took 34 minutes. With the wine it was less expensive than a lunch we could have gotten on the beach.
Coming into Miami we passed buildings with supergraphics designating districts, the “Art’s District,” the “Design District,” the “Innovation District.” And if this train can be successful it could be an innovation for rail travel in America.