Having experienced hours upon hours of Amtrak delays in the United States — which has a lot to do with freight trains operating ~70% of the tracks on which Amtrak runs — I rarely ever think about train travel in this country. Undoubtedly, there are some beautiful rides — I remember thinking that parts of the Pacific Surfliner in California were nice — but due to the woeful on-time records of Amtrak, I’d sooner take a flight, or an alternative method to get around.
Even though Amtrak dominates the passenger rail scene, there actually are some unique rail services in a few states that follow the beat of their own drums. For starters, Vermont has the Vermont Railway system, Colorado has a few, including the mountainous Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, and Alaska owns the Alaska Railroad, — which celebrates 100 years of service this year — running from Fairbanks to the glacial port of Seward.
And Then There’s Florida’s Brightline Rail
Florida is also in on the rail game, with a company called Brightline that has offered trips between Miami and West Palm Beach since 2018. Brightline is the United States’ only railroad that’s privately owned and operated, funded by New York City-based Fortress Investment Group, but under the leadership of Miami’s Florida East Coast Industries (FECI).
Florida was FECI’s initial focus, given the large population centers in Central and South Florida, as well as the massive tourism potential in connecting Miami to West Palm Beach, and eventually, Orlando and Tampa.
Brightline’s website informs us that their train carriages are 100% carbon neutral, and made at a Siemens plant in Sacramento. Aisles are made wide enough for wheelchairs to seamlessly maneuver, free wi-fi is available on every train, pets are allowed, and there’s storage both for luggage and bikes. The two classes of service are called Smart and Premium; Premium has slightly larger seats, but the main difference is that some services available for purchase in Smart are included in Premium. Oh, and there’s a Premium lounge at some stations.
Last month, Brightline inaugurated the Boca Raton and Aventura stations, further expanding access to its South Florida hotspots, a boon especially to those who hated sitting in traffic on Interstate 95. With the new service, it will be about one hour from downtown Miami to downtown Boca Raton, and then another 25 minutes to West Palm Beach.
Later on this year, Orlando International Airport’s (MCO) Brightline station will open. That means the trip from Miami to MCO will be a shade under three and a half hours. Having absolutely no idea about going between the two places in a car, Google Maps tells me it’s usually between 3.5 and 4.5 hours. And wouldn’t you need a car to get around Orlando anyway? O.K., I digress.
Up next, Brightline West, with the goal of linking Los Angeles and Victorville to Las Vegas in under two hours and 15 minutes.
Maybe I should reconsider U.S. rail travel again? Have you taken Brightline in Florida?