Brightline Resuming Florida Operations In November

Brightline Resuming Florida Operations In November

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While I don’t typically cover train topics on the blog (my enthusiasm for modes of transportation is largely centered around planes… sorry President Biden), I like to keep tabs on Brightline. Why? Well, it’s in my backyard, and I’d argue it’s the coolest train service in the United States.

The basics of Brightline

The United States isn’t exactly known for great rail service, though Brightline Florida is an exception. Brightline operates service between Miami and Palm Beach, with a stop in Fort Lauderdale.

Brightline used to be associated with Richard Branson and was going to be rebranded as Virgin Trains, but Brightline and Virgin cut ties in mid-2020. Brightline has had significant expansion goals in Florida, including plans to offer service to Orlando, and possibly even beyond.

I reviewed the Brightline experience in 2019, and it’s so incredibly pleasant that it’s hard to believe that this is in the United States. The stations are gorgeous, the trains are new and well maintained, and the employees are consistently friendly. It’s like the US train equivalent of a Gulf carrier.

The beautiful Brightline station in Miami

For an extra ~$15 you can book “Select,” which is the equivalent of business class, and that gets you access to lounges, food and alcoholic drinks onboard, and more.

Brightline Select Lounge in Miami
Brightline Select cabin

Brightline will resume operations in November

Brightline suspended operations around the start of the pandemic, and hasn’t operated since. On the surface that seems a bit odd, given that Florida hasn’t exactly been shut down during that time. Many have wondered when (or if?) Brightline would resume operations, though there was no timeline up until now. That has finally changed.

It has been announced that Brightline will be resuming operations in the first half of November 2021. An exact date hasn’t yet been shared, but we should learn more in the coming weeks.

As Brightline resumes operations, all employees will have to be vaccinated, and guests and employees will have to wear masks, in line with the federal mask mandate for transportation.

Brightline’s new door-to-door service

One of the challenges with Brightline is that Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, aren’t exactly places with great public transportation, so most people need to take a car to & from the train station.

Brightline plans to introduce a service platform that will address guests’ first and last mile connections. In partnership with Iomob, the new service will provide guests with door-to-door travel service, eliminating the gaps created by getting to & from the train station. Apparently this service will offer a selection of private luxury cars, shared shuttle services, golf carts, and micro-mobility options.

I’m curious to see what exactly this looks like in practice, and how this will be different than a ridesharing app.

Brightline’s expansion progress

Currently Brightline only operates from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach. However, the company has expansion plans:

  • Stations are being built in Aventura and Boca Raton; the Aventura station is under construction, while the Boca Raton station is expected to break ground in the coming months
  • Brightline will expand all the way to Orlando; construction has surpassed the halfway point, and is on track to be completed by the end of 2022
  • Discussions continue to remain underway for expansion to Disney and Tampa, though nothing concrete has been announced there

Will Brightline ever make money?

Before I get into this, let me emphasize that I adore the Brightline passenger experience, and I also find Brightline to be extremely useful. I benefit from Brightline existing. I’d love to see Brightline expanded all the way to Tampa, since I have family there as well.

That being said, I can’t help but comment on the company continuing to pretend that it will ever make an operating profit, and being so far off on projections vs. reality. Brightline has already invested more than $4 billion in its South Florida operations, and this is purely a real estate play, as it’s about developing real estate around these stations and areas.

Even pre-pandemic, Brightline was running a huge operating loss:

  • The company had predicted that in 2019 there would be 2.3 million passengers and $112 million revenue
  • In 2019 Brightline had one million passengers and $22 million revenue
  • In other words, ridership was less than half of what was projected, and revenue was less than one-fifth of what was projected

I think this also explains why Brightline suspended operations for so long, despite Florida otherwise booming — the investors know that they won’t make money operating trains, so the longer they can suspend operations while selling the real estate dream, the better.

Brightline is sticking to its narrative, though. Today Brightline’s CEO said this about the company making money:

“We always knew South Florida was going to be a fraction of our operations. The end game is to connect South Florida with Central Florida, and we expect to see profitability in that segment.”

So yeah, the company’s leadership was off off by over 80% on revenue in existing markets, but Orlando will be a different story, and will be profitable? Even assuming the demand is there (which I question), what would ticket prices need to be like for Brightline to make an operating profit on the route? I just can’t make the math work, especially when you consider they’d presumably largely be targeting families.

Bottom line

Brightline has announced that it will resume operations in November 2021. I’m thrilled to see that, since it’s a service I’ve found to be really useful, given that we live in Miami and have family in West Palm Beach. When Brightline resumes operations, the company will offer some sort of a new door-to-door service, which seems like it could eliminate one of the pain points of taking the train. Furthermore, Brightline is working towards opening stations in Aventura, Boca Raton, and Orlando, by 2022.

Brightline continuing to pretend that it will ever turn a direct profit is a real head-scratcher to me, though…

Anyone else excited to see Brightline resume operations?

Conversations (41)
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  1. karl Guest

    Sounds a bit like the NYWaterway commuter ferry service from NJ to Manhattan — the main reason for it’s existance seems to have been to sell land around the ferry terminal in Weehawken to builders for apartment buildings and condos.

  2. Ernesto Sales Guest

    I can hardly wait the the Orlando line since I would be able to enjoy a day at Disney, get on board relax and enjoy the train back to Miami I don't have to worry about driving 4 hours back,,thank you

  3. Gray Guest

    So, one thing the article misses is that (IIRC) Brightline's projections for 2019 expected that they would be operating to Orlando. Those 2019 figures also presumed about a one-year-earlier-than-happened start-of-service into Miami. The blown timetable (due to lawsuits, thank you Indian River County and Martin County) is the main source for falling short.

    (Bear in mind that the 2.3m ridership included something like 400-600k going to Orlando and the rest within South Florida...please don't quote...

    So, one thing the article misses is that (IIRC) Brightline's projections for 2019 expected that they would be operating to Orlando. Those 2019 figures also presumed about a one-year-earlier-than-happened start-of-service into Miami. The blown timetable (due to lawsuits, thank you Indian River County and Martin County) is the main source for falling short.

    (Bear in mind that the 2.3m ridership included something like 400-600k going to Orlando and the rest within South Florida...please don't quote me, I'm trying to remember 4-5 year-old bond filings.)

  4. Jay Davis Guest

    I have only had the chance to use Brightline one time, from Palm Beach down to Fort Lauderdale, right before Covid hit. I was extremely impressed with the trains, I booked a Select ticker and it was such an incredible experience. I have to go to a convention, every other year in Palm Beach, from now on, I will ride Brightline from FLL up to PBI instead of renting a car, so much better!

  5. iamhere Guest

    Agree with the person that mentioned about not being able to take it from MIA and would add what happens on the other side. If it's not set up like an airport with car rentals or transportation it's an issue....

  6. RTBones Gold

    Really hoping Brightline succeeds.

  7. Adam Simmons Guest

    Does Brightline hit any airports en route? The French and Dutch have air/plane connections down to a fine art (i.e. the airports are part of the rail network, not just an add-on shuttle to the capital) and even the UK is not so shabby. By contrast, the Spanish are hopeless! Airports are one of the biggest journey generators that a city usually has.

    1. JohnHam New Member

      Tracks run through Fort Lauderdale Airport (FLL), but no plans for a stop yet

    2. Stuart Guest

      Correct on that. I don't even think there is room for an FLL stop. MCO is the expansion plans as well.

    3. Ben Guest

      have you ever been to spain? there are plenty of trains, buses and subways to the airports, all over the country

  8. Saint82 Guest

    Well, I love the idea of public transportation, but I highly question the feasibility of high speed trains at ground level through densely populated areas.
    There were so many fatalities during its last operation that people were calling it “Flatline,”

    1. Mark P New Member

      Yes, ignorant people thinking they can cross the tracks when crossing arms are down are going to be a problem. The sooner people realize that trains are fast and can hurt, the sooner they will learn to respect rail ROW.

    2. Saint82 Guest

      Yes people do stupid things on train tracks just like they did crazy things at The Vessel in NYC. And they are closing that.

      I have taken and appreciated many high speed trains. But I don’t know of any high speed train going straight through densely populated major cities like Miami and Ft. Lauderdale at grade. Let me know if you do.

    3. CloudySunrise Guest

      Should we stop all car traffic because some people j-walk and get hit by a car? No! It’s ridiculous to blame Brightline for any accident caused by people crossing the tracks when signals were on and bars down.

  9. LGJ Guest

    Ben—

    Brightline’s parent is Fortress Capital.

    The train is more of a loss-leader type of project intended to eventually break even one day. But the larger strategic play is that Fortress owns the entire rail right of away including the mixed use real estate projects surrounding each station. The rental income from these residential/commercial real estate projects is where the long-term revenue and sustained profit for revenue for Fortress is derived.

    1. Mark P New Member

      Yes, this is the intent. Just like Japan!

  10. Tom Guest

    The biggest issue... taking Brightline to MIA is not very practicle. They should have free dedicated nice minibusses going to/from MIA. Without it, why bother. (And/or charge a little for private car with your name.)

    1. Mark P New Member

      That's what Tri Rail is for, direct access to MIA. Different train systems can complement each other! Tri Rail is for MIA, Brightline is for downtown Miami.

  11. Pamm Guest

    Anyone else excited to see Brightline resume operations?

    Not at all. It has impacted so many people and will continue to impact the people who are now stuck with all the construction, noise, road closings, noise from the high speeds, and the blocking whole communities from getting any emergency help in a timely manner.

    Entire counties are up in arms of this money grabbing company.

    1. Ray Guest

      Yes @Pamm, it was so much nicer when we lived in caves and the only noises heard were an occasional dinosaur passing by. Hate to break it to you but noises, road closings, and construction come with moving into the future.

    2. Eskimo Guest

      Yes @Ray, it was so much nicer when Hollywood and cartoons make you believe its real.
      Hate to break it to you but "we" are not "Neanderthal", and never co exist with dinosaurs ever.

      In a generation where we can't stereotype anything anymore. Stop stereotyping the Flintstones.
      #CavemanToo

    3. John D Guest

      How is a train that takes less than a minute to go through a crossing causing so much disruption? I am sure your normal every day traffic causes a lot more congestion than Brightline does.

      Also we are not talking about a new rail line here. We are talking a freight line that saw multiple trains a day before Brightline came around that has mile to two mile long trains traveling at slower speeds than Brightline and thus causing substantially more delays.

  12. Milo Guest

    "On the surface that seems a bit odd, given that Florida hasn’t exactly been shut down during that time."

    Well, the pro-shutdown crowd and the pro-public transportation crowd pretty much overlaps. The pro-open crowd is likely more pro-driving.

    Social distancing and public transit are 2 almost mutually exclusive concepts. Social distancing capable public transit, i.e. 20% capacity at best, is not financially sustainable.

    Just saying.

    Why is flying different? Because flying is a mode of...

    "On the surface that seems a bit odd, given that Florida hasn’t exactly been shut down during that time."

    Well, the pro-shutdown crowd and the pro-public transportation crowd pretty much overlaps. The pro-open crowd is likely more pro-driving.

    Social distancing and public transit are 2 almost mutually exclusive concepts. Social distancing capable public transit, i.e. 20% capacity at best, is not financially sustainable.

    Just saying.

    Why is flying different? Because flying is a mode of transportation without a viable private option (most people cannot afford private jets, unlike our Climate Czar).

  13. Jules Rosen Guest

    At least go thru mco airport then Orlando .

    1. Mark P New Member

      There is no planned downtown Orlando station. The MCO airport station (already built) will be the sole Orlando station, aside from the Disney station which will eventually happen in a future extension.

  14. Jules Rosen Guest

    Even to Orlando means I drive 1 hour .

  15. KK13 Guest

    Brightline is now looking to hire nearly 200 employees, with starting wages at $18 per hour.

    The company will also offer employee benefits and a comprehensive total rewards package with access to resources that support their professional and personal growth.

  16. KK13 Guest

    "Brightline will expand all the way to Orlando; construction has surpassed the halfway point, and is on track to be completed by the end of 2022."

    I can't wait to try it out once the Orlando to Miami route is functional.

  17. Abey Guest

    The only way I see them making money is expanding quickly to the entire south Florida, and a lot of hype (advertising etc.)

  18. Tim Guest

    I love Brightline. I was involved in the site selection for the WPB station. I was using it weekly as I live in both WPB and Wilton Manors, FtL. It's the best train service in the USA.
    Hope to see you onboard sometime

  19. Eskimo Guest

    "On the surface that seems a bit odd, given that Florida hasn’t exactly been shut down during that time."
    "suspended operations for so long, despite Florida otherwise booming"

    Maybe they realize how Delta has been crushing the booming state of Florida to unprecedented levels.
    And I'm not talking about the airline.

  20. Tcdtcd Guest

    Public transit in Miami/SFla is silly. Just like Phoenix metro “light rail”. Both are a joke!

    1. Mark P New Member

      Why is light rail in quotes? Something tells me you don't know very much about transit, so instead you choose to denigrate it.

  21. dee Guest

    Brightline needs some government subsidies just like the MEGA_BILLIONS we are giving Amtrak -esp for the new chef and gourmet food on the regular trains we are footing the bills for!!

    1. GBOAC Platinum

      Folks: Dee has no idea what s/he is talking about. Sleeping car passengers pay for the food through their exorbitant sleeping car fares, while coach passengers aren't even allowed into the diner.
      Yes the government supports Amtrak but Amtrak accounting is so opaque it's never been clear where Amtrak really loses money, although the most likely source of losses is the North East corridor infrastructure and not the few long distance dining cars serving...

      Folks: Dee has no idea what s/he is talking about. Sleeping car passengers pay for the food through their exorbitant sleeping car fares, while coach passengers aren't even allowed into the diner.
      Yes the government supports Amtrak but Amtrak accounting is so opaque it's never been clear where Amtrak really loses money, although the most likely source of losses is the North East corridor infrastructure and not the few long distance dining cars serving "the new chef and gourmet food "

    2. UA-NYC Guest

      dee, you're dumb so you don't realize this, but the former POTUS you worship gave away $1.5T (Trillion if you aren't aware) to rich people and corporations that basically did nothing for the country.

  22. JB Guest

    "I like to keep tabs on Brightline. Why? Well, it’s in my backyard"

    I can beat that. Brightline is in my basement (or maybe I'm in their attic) ;)

    I just moved into the residential tower built above the Miami Brightline Station. Its only a few miles east of MIA, and the building lines up perfectly with the runways, so we have some incredible views of the planes taking off and on final approach. It's so cool to see the variety of traffic! Its an Avgeek's dream :)

  23. John Guest

    You were right about it might not returning cause I thought that with South Florida being the top 5 if not #1 destination for Americans to travel to. But with that being said tourists must not be the best demographic. But in that case, what is!

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Ray Guest

Yes @Pamm, it was so much nicer when we lived in caves and the only noises heard were an occasional dinosaur passing by. Hate to break it to you but noises, road closings, and construction come with moving into the future.

1
LGJ Guest

Ben— Brightline’s parent is Fortress Capital. The train is more of a loss-leader type of project intended to eventually break even one day. But the larger strategic play is that Fortress owns the entire rail right of away including the mixed use real estate projects surrounding each station. The rental income from these residential/commercial real estate projects is where the long-term revenue and sustained profit for revenue for Fortress is derived.

1
UA-NYC Guest

dee, you're dumb so you don't realize this, but the former POTUS you worship gave away $1.5T (Trillion if you aren't aware) to rich people and corporations that basically did nothing for the country.

1
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