Brightline (Website), the in-development intercity rail company that’s been hard at work connecting Orlando to South Florida, wants everyone to know that it’s “officially the fastest train in Florida and the Southeastern United States,” according to a recent press release.
Brightline was testing its trains on a new 35-mile corridor between the Orlando International Airport and Cocoa the past few weeks, along the Beachline Expressway, when its trains managed to reach speeds of 130 mph – an accomplishment made possible because of the lack of grade crossings along that stretch of rail.
Once complete, trains will travel at maximum speeds of 125 mph with passengers along that same corridor, which translates to two miles per minute if you like math. The trains are powered by two 16-cylinder locomotives, with one on each end.
The Orlando Station is expected to open sometime this year and will connect Central and South Florida with a three-hour commute. As of this week, Brightline has confirmed that they are 90% finished with construction on the Orlando route.
Trains will continue to be tested for the rest of the month between the airport and Cocoa, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. if you happen to see them on your way out to the beach.
Once complete, tickets are expected to cost $100 for a one-way ticket from Orlando to Miami and would take roughly three and a half hours. Click HERE for an in-depth comparison of flying, driving, or taking the train to Miami courtesy of adorable math genius Ryan Lynch for Orlando Business Journal.
So we need to talk about the elephant in the room here. I love Brightline, love what they have done to bring passenger service back to the FEC and create a much more useful Orlando-South Florida link than the meandering Amtrak Silver Service. But Brightline has been pulling the wool over the eyes for years and I’m concerned where this story ends.
To back up, you have to understand that Brightline/FEC/Fortress/GrupoMexico is a real estate play, based on developing land around stations. They have no chance of making the trains actually pay for themselves. Consider that the highest ridership they have EVER had in a year is 1.2M. Sounds good until you go back and read the All Aboard Florida Ridership and Revenue Study from 2013 and realize that the minimum business case was based on 2M per year for the South Florida segment (and ideally 2.6M). They projected to carry another 2M on the Orlando segment, which will simply never happen.
Note also that the fares have not been disclosed. A Brown University study in 2015 figured the line would have to charge about $300 from Orlando to Miami to service the debt. Maybe there are bond subsidies and other mechanisms not known at that time that will bring this down but I suspect the fare will still be quite high, and that brings us back to the need to attract 2M riders just on the Orlando segment.
In short, Brightline won’t work without massive public subsidy. Which is fine — give them a subsidy, tie it into SunRail and TriRail and so on. But let’s not fool ourselves that fully private rail actually works in this century.