Private investment in mass transit, outside of air travel, is not the American way. While mass transit has been well-incorporated into other major cities, cars have driven the Orlando landscape since the highway system took hold 70 years ago. But now, billions of private dollars are being laid out to put train travel on track to compete with cars here in Florida.It’s been repeatedly billed as a new age for travel in the state, a high-speed rail link connecting Central Florida to South Florida.Getting There: A look at how transportation is changing in Central FloridaAfter several faltered attempts, the train is almost ready to leave the station. Brightline Trains has been spending billions connecting cities in South Florida, and next year will be pulling into the intermodal facility at Orlando International Airport.”I think it’s very critical that they succeed. The service they are implementing is long overdue. And in Florida, we have had several false starts over the last three decades, Miami, West Palm, Orlando, Tampa. It’s almost a no-brainer in terms of the need for this service,” Frank T. Martin, a transit industry leader, said. A nationally renowned transportation industry engineer and consultant, Martin has worked in both the private and public sectors over the last 40 years. And a good chunk of that with regional rail systems. He calls Central Florida home.”The number one challenge will just be the resistance of doing something new and different. You’ve been used to getting into your car when you want to go from point A to point B,” he said.Four years ago, Brightline Trains started just that, something different.High-tech, high-speed, experience-focused rail line connecting West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. At 120 miles per hour, it’s only 30 minutes of travel time between each city. “I really think it’s about the experience. We don’t just get people from A to B. It’s not just the commodity of transportation. It’s the experience we create around it,” Brightline Trains President Patrick Goddard said. Brightline’s president Patrick Goddard comes from the hospitality industry. That was by design.This service is all about the experience.From the moment you pull up to the stations, sleek check-in counters, even the added hotel lobby touch of a special scent and music pumped in. No chance of confusing this with Amtrak or SunRail.WESH 2 joined Patrick on the hour journey from West Palm Beach to Brightline’s purpose-built station complex called MiamiCentral.”We are really trying to think about it from the lens of the consumer. From the lens of the guest. Prefer to call them guests than passengers. That’s how we think about their experience. They are a guest with us,” he said.That experience comes at a different price point too. This is not commuter rail. Trips start at $15 one-way, and price up depending on demand.But with deals and monthly pass discounts as the system grows, and because of COVID-19, some are using Brightline to commute.From Jupiter, Natasha Truesdale uses the line for business.”Definitely in a few years we’d be using this for to go to Orlando and go to the amusement parks,” she said. “You don’t have to get to the train station very early. It’s not like going to the airport, two hours early. You get here 10 minutes early and you get on. And it’s timely. There’s not a lot of delays.”Brightline is the first privately owned and operated intercity rail system in over 100 years. Owned by Florida East Coast Industries, that relationship gives Brightline priority when running on tracks shared with freight trains. The segment from Miami north through Brevard County, where new tracks to Orlando are now being laid.”So there’s an incredible opportunity in the United States right now. We are about 50 years behind Europe and Asia, as I’ve said. As far as intercity passenger rail here in the US,” Goddard said. Being behind the times brings growing pains.Just like when SunRail was introduced in Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties, there have been accidents involving Brightline trains. Earlier in the year, there were three in four days along the tracks in Palm Beach County. One was deadly.The public drivers and pedestrians are not used to new trains and frequency. Or not heeding the warnings.”We see people making intentional acts versus accidents. We are not seeing accidents. People are not accidentally driving around a gate crossing. They are not accidentally walking in front of the train. That’s not what’s happening here,” Goddard said.Brightline is investing in public information outreach programs warning of rail crossings.The company also says it has and will continue to invest billions in upgrading the infrastructure of the line and the crossings, including high-tech, like drones to patrol the tracks.Like any good company, Brightline has its sites trained beyond Orlando and 2023 service.The company hopes to continue laying tracks to Disney and then Tampa. They’re not writing off options for future stops along the Orlando corridor.”We are looking at other, potentially one or two more stations in the state of Florida. Potentially something in the Treasure Coast, something in the Brevard area. Those are active discussions that we’ve been having,” Goddard said. But before more expansion can happen, Brightline needs to see success in its move into Central Florida.”There are about 400 million trips between Central Florida and South Florida annually. About a million trips a day by car. That’s a lot of trips, and what we are trying to do is offer people an alternate way to take those trips,” he said. Goddard uses the 20% month-on-month growth so far this year on the South Florida route as proof of concept for the line.He’s banking Brightline’s success on pulling 10% of drivers between Central Florida and South Florida off the highways and onto his trains.”For us, to make Florida work. I talked a little bit about 400 million trips. We need to capture 10% of those to make this rail line viable. We think we are going far exceed that. Congestion is going to get worse. Population is going to grow. Congestion is going to get worse. There is going to be more urbanization around downtowns. When we actually start to connect South Florida to Central Florida, we think it’s a gamechanger,” he said.Can they convince 40 million Floridians to leave their car at home? Scott Heidler: “Do you think that’s a doable first goal, 10%?” Martin: “I think so. I see no reason as to why it wouldn’t be. I’m sure the marketing is going to be great in terms of the preliminary information going out to the community; try this system. But there has to be a starting point. So that’s probably a good starting point.”There’s a time-tested saying in the hotel business, Goddard’s former industry, “It’s always about getting heads in beds.”Here it’s trading the freedom of an automobile for the ease of getting there.

Private investment in mass transit, outside of air travel, is not the American way.

While mass transit has been well-incorporated into other major cities, cars have driven the Orlando landscape since the highway system took hold 70 years ago.

But now, billions of private dollars are being laid out to put train travel on track to compete with cars here in Florida.

It’s been repeatedly billed as a new age for travel in the state, a high-speed rail link connecting Central Florida to South Florida.

Getting There: A look at how transportation is changing in Central Florida

After several faltered attempts, the train is almost ready to leave the station.

Brightline Trains has been spending billions connecting cities in South Florida, and next year will be pulling into the intermodal facility at Orlando International Airport.

“I think it’s very critical that they succeed. The service they are implementing is long overdue. And in Florida, we have had several false starts over the last three decades, Miami, West Palm, Orlando, Tampa. It’s almost a no-brainer in terms of the need for this service,” Frank T. Martin, a transit industry leader, said.

A nationally renowned transportation industry engineer and consultant, Martin has worked in both the private and public sectors over the last 40 years. And a good chunk of that with regional rail systems. He calls Central Florida home.

“The number one challenge will just be the resistance of doing something new and different. You’ve been used to getting into your car when you want to go from point A to point B,” he said.

Four years ago, Brightline Trains started just that, something different.

High-tech, high-speed, experience-focused rail line connecting West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. At 120 miles per hour, it’s only 30 minutes of travel time between each city.

“I really think it’s about the experience. We don’t just get people from A to B. It’s not just the commodity of transportation. It’s the experience we create around it,” Brightline Trains President Patrick Goddard said.

Brightline’s president Patrick Goddard comes from the hospitality industry. That was by design.

This service is all about the experience.

From the moment you pull up to the stations, sleek check-in counters, even the added hotel lobby touch of a special scent and music pumped in.

No chance of confusing this with Amtrak or SunRail.

WESH 2 joined Patrick on the hour journey from West Palm Beach to Brightline’s purpose-built station complex called MiamiCentral.

“We are really trying to think about it from the lens of the consumer. From the lens of the guest. Prefer to call them guests than passengers. That’s how we think about their experience. They are a guest with us,” he said.

That experience comes at a different price point too. This is not commuter rail. Trips start at $15 one-way, and price up depending on demand.

But with deals and monthly pass discounts as the system grows, and because of COVID-19, some are using Brightline to commute.

From Jupiter, Natasha Truesdale uses the line for business.

“Definitely in a few years we’d be using this for to go to Orlando and go to the amusement parks,” she said. “You don’t have to get to the train station very early. It’s not like going to the airport, two hours early. You get here 10 minutes early and you get on. And it’s timely. There’s not a lot of delays.”

Brightline is the first privately owned and operated intercity rail system in over 100 years. Owned by Florida East Coast Industries, that relationship gives Brightline priority when running on tracks shared with freight trains. The segment from Miami north through Brevard County, where new tracks to Orlando are now being laid.

“So there’s an incredible opportunity in the United States right now. We are about 50 years behind Europe and Asia, as I’ve said. As far as intercity passenger rail here in the US,” Goddard said.

Being behind the times brings growing pains.

Just like when SunRail was introduced in Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties, there have been accidents involving Brightline trains. Earlier in the year, there were three in four days along the tracks in Palm Beach County. One was deadly.

The public drivers and pedestrians are not used to new trains and frequency. Or not heeding the warnings.

“We see people making intentional acts versus accidents. We are not seeing accidents. People are not accidentally driving around a gate crossing. They are not accidentally walking in front of the train. That’s not what’s happening here,” Goddard said.

Brightline is investing in public information outreach programs warning of rail crossings.

The company also says it has and will continue to invest billions in upgrading the infrastructure of the line and the crossings, including high-tech, like drones to patrol the tracks.

Like any good company, Brightline has its sites trained beyond Orlando and 2023 service.

The company hopes to continue laying tracks to Disney and then Tampa. They’re not writing off options for future stops along the Orlando corridor.

“We are looking at other, potentially one or two more stations in the state of Florida. Potentially something in the Treasure Coast, something in the Brevard area. Those are active discussions that we’ve been having,” Goddard said.

But before more expansion can happen, Brightline needs to see success in its move into Central Florida.

“There are about 400 million trips between Central Florida and South Florida annually. About a million trips a day by car. That’s a lot of trips, and what we are trying to do is offer people an alternate way to take those trips,” he said.

Goddard uses the 20% month-on-month growth so far this year on the South Florida route as proof of concept for the line.

He’s banking Brightline’s success on pulling 10% of drivers between Central Florida and South Florida off the highways and onto his trains.

“For us, to make Florida work. I talked a little bit about 400 million trips. We need to capture 10% of those to make this rail line viable. We think we are going far exceed that. Congestion is going to get worse. Population is going to grow. Congestion is going to get worse. There is going to be more urbanization around downtowns. When we actually start to connect South Florida to Central Florida, we think it’s a gamechanger,” he said.

Can they convince 40 million Floridians to leave their car at home?

Scott Heidler: “Do you think that’s a doable first goal, 10%?”

Martin: “I think so. I see no reason as to why it wouldn’t be. I’m sure the marketing is going to be great in terms of the preliminary information going out to the community; try this system. But there has to be a starting point. So that’s probably a good starting point.”

There’s a time-tested saying in the hotel business, Goddard’s former industry, “It’s always about getting heads in beds.”

Here it’s trading the freedom of an automobile for the ease of getting there.



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