- Brightline high-speed train service began on Saturday in South Florida, between West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, according to the Sun-Sentinel and others.
- The private passenger rail carrier is expected to expand service by the spring when it is finishes construction at its Miami stop. Last month the U.S. Department of Transportation approved the next phase — to Orlando — which is scheduled to open in 2020.
- Though the new service was met with passenger approval, Brightline faced a number of obstacles just before the service launch. The ticket booking system was overloaded on Thursday and incorrectly showed that all trips were sold out through March, and on Friday a woman was fatally struck by a train after reportedly ducking under closed safety gates and attempting to cross the tracks.
Much of Florida suffers from sprawl and little public transportation infrastructure — both within and between its cities — which leads to residents being heavily car dependent. South Florida is notorious for its traffic congestion and for its drivers ranking as some of the worst in the nation, both in terms of distracted driving and the high accident rate. During the past decade, Miami set up an express toll system in part to ease its crippling congestion on I-95, one of the two main thoroughfares linking it to other cities. Adding a train system as a fast, reasonable transportation option could prove effective in getting some cars off the road.
In addition to easing congestion, reducing single-driver car trips would also help to reduce emissions in a state that has notable climate change concerns, such as rising sea levels and bleaching reefs off the shore.
The fatality that occurred before service launched appears to have been the fault of the pedestrian who tried ducking closed warning gates, according to witness accounts. However, it spotlights safety concerns that have been mentioned by groups and individuals opposed to some aspects of Brightline. Citizens, especially those in more rural areas of Central Florida, want additional safety measures such as fencing along the tracks to ensure that people are adequately protected from the train, which could reach speeds of 120 mph.
Because Brightline has encountered numerous delays and setbacks on its way to finally launching service, some Florida residents are not yet convinced that it will be a go-to transportation option. If Brightline wants to achieve long-term success it will quickly need to prove that its kinks are worked out and it can provide reliable service. Based on the Sun-Sentinel's account of passengers giving good reviews, the carrier appears to be well on its way.
With features such as wide aisles, leather seats, bike racks and free Wi-Fi, Brightline appears to have a focus on customer service. Such amenities appeal to both commuters and business travelers as well as tourists.
If the passenger train line's short-term expansion to Miami and Orlando proves successful, it could open the door for expansion to other cities throughout the state, such as Tampa and Jacksonville. As the country's only privately-owned and operated passenger railroad, Brightline could also serve as an example for other states interested in adding high-speed rail service.