One of the more ambitious tourism infrastructure projects in North America is full steam ahead through Florida. The $6.4 billion connection between Miami to Orlando completed its four-year Phase 2 on September 22, when it debuted a connection from West Palm Beach to Orlando. The addition connects passengers traveling between the home of the Magic Kingdom and Miami by rail. A one-way trip takes about 3.5 hours, which is more than two hours less than the fastest Amtrak option between the two destinations.
At top speed the Brightline trains aren’t as fast as Amtrak’s fleet but they do have a number of advantages over the quasi-public national train company:
- Fewer stops: This is the main reason Brightline can cleave so many minutes off of Amtrak’s travel time between Orlando and Miami
- Higher-quality seats and WiFi throughout
- Premium seating option with in-seat food and bar service
- Premium lounge access (which comes with the Premium seat purchase) that includes a complimentary bar with food and drinks, a kids’ play area, and a meeting room that can be booked for conference calls while you wait for your train to board.
Brightline isn’t done yet with the Sunshine State. There are plans to launch a Phase 3 project that will continue eastward from Orlando to Tampa.
The first privately funded passenger rail system in the United States in over a century, Brightline is a welcome option in an increasingly traffic-heavy corridor in South Florida. The company, which uses biodiesel and electricity to power its fleet, says it has already removed more than 3 million car trips from the Florida roads as drivers choose its service. It uses existing railway tracks from Miami to Cocoa Beach and then shifts to new tracks that it constructed, finishing in Terminal 3 of Orlando International Airport. Approximately 170 miles of track were laid north of West Palm Beach and Fortress Investment Group, Brightline’s owner, built a $100 million train maintenance facility in Orlando that employs 200 people.
Train Travel to Fort Lauderdale
Among the tangential effects of Brightline is the likely boon for tourism in Fort Lauderdale. Brightline is already an economic catalyst for the city, providing commuting options from Miami. The expansion to Orlando, which is about three hours northwest of Fort Lauderdale, opens up the possibility of more travelers reaching the destination by train. Sun-seekers who want to include a beach stay to their theme-park vacation without adding a car rental will find Fort Lauderdale enticing. It’s more accessible and less expensive than Miami, and has plenty to do.
Along with 24 miles (38.6 kilometres) of beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, Fort Lauderdale is noted for its Intracoastal Waterway tours that sails visitors by boat through Millionaires’ Row, where ostentatious waterfront properties underscore the city’s prosperity. The Miami FC soccer team, the new squad of Lionel Messi, plays its home games at Fort Lauderdale’s DRV PNK Stadium.
Increased tourism infrastructure planned for 2024 and 2025 includes new hotels and a massive expansion of the city’s conference center.
Rail Tourism Rebounds Around the World
The emergence of Brightline, which already has a successful western U.S. route that runs from Las Vegas to Southern California, is an example of the global rebound in train travel.
Whether its new luxury-class offerings or the return of overnight trains, rail travel in Europe is in the midst of a comeback because of consumer demand for more eco-conscious choices and cheaper alternatives to airlines. In Asia, bullet trains can now reach speeds of 373 miles per hour (600 km/h) and billions of dollars of funding is pouring into magnetic-levitation (maglev) train development.
“There is no doubt that climate-positive travel is the future, and I’m excited for the role travel tech companies will play in driving this shift,” Naren Shaam, CEO and founder of Berlin-based travel provider Omio, told CNN in a 2023 report on the rise of train travel.
While North America has been slower to join the train frenzy, interest is burgeoning. VIA Rail, Canada’s national train operator, reported a whopping 106.5% increase in ridership in the first quarter of 2023. The long-awaited Mayan Train project in Mexico is scheduled to finally begin service in December.
So getting on board with Brightline is not only novel but it’s part of a trend that connects with a culture that increasingly wants comfort and convenience mixed with climate action.
MORE ABOUT BRIGHTLINE IN FLORIDA
Cost: One-way trips between Miami and Orlando start at $149 per person for a premium ticket and $79 for a ticket in the Smart fare category. Premium tickets include lounge access at the train station and up to two complimentary drinks while on board. For families, Brightline offers Smart fares only for children 12 and under. Children in that age group travel for half price and a group of four receives a 25% discount on each ticket.
Uber Partnership: A bonus for Brightline premium ticket-holders in Miami is the complimentary Uber ride to or from the train station. When you book your ticket, you receive a voucher within the Brightline app. The voucher can be used to book your Uber ride directly within the Brightline app. The complimentary rides are only for use with Uber cars within a five-mile radius of the Brightline station.
Schedule: Trains run hourly during most of the day. Visit the Brightline website for full details.