Brightline service between Miami and Orlando opens

Sept. 25, 2023
The line will not only connect south and central Florida, but it is being heralded as a bellwether for the future of passenger rail travel in the United States.

Bright Pink, the first of Brightline’s trains to arrive in Orlando, marked the arrival of private passenger rail travel to central Florida by breaking through a banner stretched across the tracks of Brightline’s Orlando airport station on Sept. 22. Brightline’s service now expands across 235 miles between Miami and Orlando, connecting the two cities in three to three and a half hours. An impressive feat considering the initial segment of Brightline connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach opened in 2018 followed by an extension to Boca Raton and Aventura in 2022.

“This is an historic day for Brightline and the team that worked diligently over these past 10 years to bring the project to reality. We are charting a new path for innovation and transportation, and people are responding as we knew they would. I am excited to see millions of guests choose a smarter way to travel,” said Mike Reininger, CEO of Brightline.

Work to extend Brightline’s service 170 miles to Orlando began in June 2019 and was officially completed in June 2023. In four years of construction, the project included:

  • 56 bridges including 18 new bridges, three underpasses and major work on the St. Lucie River Bridge and Loxahatchee River Bridge;
  • Track and signal installation, as well as drainage installation;
  • 60 track miles of new rail was installed;
  • 156 grade crossings were upgraded;
  • A new double track segment was constructed under an active railway and a 35-mile alignment along the Beachline Expressway/SR 528 was also constructed.

The project also included construction of Brightline’s $100-million maintenance facility, Basecamp, which provides 24/7 maintenance for Brightline’s trains and is situated on 62 acres south of the Orlando International Airport.

Future of Brightline and passenger rail travel

Brightline’s extension to Orlando carries with it the hope of what the future of passenger rail travel could be in the United States, especially between city pairs that are too far to drive and too short to fly.

“Over the last century, America has perfected the automobile and pioneered space exploration, but we’ve barely budged in terms of passenger rail. Today is an historic event for Brightline and the state of Florida that represents a decade of hard work and determination. This moment also marks the beginning of a new industry and outlines a blueprint for expanding high-speed rail in America,” said Wes Edens, co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, owner of Brightline.

The practicality of connecting city pairs in travel times that are competitive with air travel is one aspect of Brightline’s service. The other is matching or beating the convivence of traveling in a personal vehicle and the rail service has focused on the overall passenger experience. The rail service launched its concierge Brightline+ service in 2022 that provides a way to connect guests from the starting point to their starting train station and to their final destination after their train journey ends. Last week, Brightline said its Orlando transportation partners would include MEARS shuttles, Uber rideshare and car rental options through Avis.

“Brightline’s Orlando Station sets a new benchmark for transportation between two of Florida’s busiest regions, with a seamless, convenient experience that caters to today’s modern traveler. We’ve curated an experience – both in our gleaming stations and onboard our trains – that exceeds the benefit of time-savings, alone. It’s comfortable and unique, and we are looking forward to welcoming guests onboard,” said Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline.

Next, Brightline will be turning its attention west. The rail service explains it has “bold plans to transform high-speed rail in the U.S. on the West Coast.” Its Brightline West project plans to connect Los Angeles and Las Vegas using fully electric trains that operate at 200 mph. The project is scheduled to break ground at the end of 2023 and is expected to “connect millions” of riders between the two cities annually.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.