Reinventing Train Travel in America
TOO CLOSE TO FLY BUT TOO FAR TO DRIVE? INTERCITY TRAVEL IS GETTING FASTER, CHEAPER, AND ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY.
In Europe and Asia, intercity train travel is commonplace, which reduces the number of cars on the road and saves travelers time and money. Brightline, a new express passenger rail system, is on a mission to help the U.S. follow suit. It is America’s first privately funded passenger rail system in more than 100 years, and it is connecting complementary city pairs that are too close to fly but too far to drive. Its first mission is to connect Miami and Orlando (235 miles), and it is already operating between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, Florida.
Even those familiar with intercity rail travel will find Brightline novel because of its emphasis on delivering an unforgettable travel experience. With plans to expand in Florida and to build a rail system connecting Las Vegas and Southern California,
Brightline is transforming passenger rail. In doing so, it earns its place among Fast Company's “Most Innovative” businesses.
THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF ONE MILLION RIDES
The benefits of traveling by train rather than automobile include speed, cost-savings, and a positive environmental impact. Brightline started in 2018 and hit “one million rides” shortly thereafter. In its second year of operations, it nearly doubled ridership. Wes Edens, founder of New Fortress Energy and cofounder of Fortress Investment Group, which backs Brightline, says one million rides translates into 400,000 less car trips, a reduction of 15 million pounds of CO2 emissions, and 750,000 fewer fuel gallons on the road, representing roughly $2 million in savings.
Brightline partners with Florida Power & Light (FPL) to provide biodiesel fuel for its locomotives, a cleaner-burning replacement produced from renewable sources. When it begins service in Las Vegas and Southern California, it will use fully electric train sets that operate at 180 miles per hour to connect passengers to their destination in approximately 90 minutes.
The Brightline concept was inspired by a book Edens read about Henry Flagler, the founder of what eventually became Florida East Coast Railway. But, unlike early train travel and much of passenger rail abroad, Brightline prioritizes customer experience. The trains are built in the U.S. with luxury seating and amenities, so passengers can relax, socialize, or get work done in an inviting environment. The stations are designed to be places people would want to visit, even if they didn’t have a train to catch. Edens has always envisioned a station that people want to get married in.
Each Brightline infrastructure project stimulates economic growth in the region. Last year, Brightline began developing 170 miles of track to connect Miami to a new terminal at Orlando International Airport. This project will create an estimated 10,000 construction jobs. Later this year, it plans to break ground on the Las Vegas/southern California rail system, which will create jobs and stimulate tourism.
Edens notes the Brightline model can be replicated between other strategically distanced cities, such as Atlanta and Charlotte, or Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. The company is just getting started, and Edens urges U.S. travelers to climb onboard with an open mind, then sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.