Bright­line trains a lux­ury ex­pe­ri­ence

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Spear Or­lando Sen­tinel

There was a hint of dis­ap­point­ment re­cently on a Bright­line train, the pri­vately owned pas­sen­ger ser­vice that started this year be­tween Mi­ami, Fort Laud­erdale and West Palm Beach, with plans to even­tu­ally run to Or­lando.

Free cham­pagne had been of­fered on the board­ing plat­form for pas­sen­gers with top-tier tickets. But once un­der­way at 79 mph dur­ing rush hour, the train at­ten­dant’s cart had no French bub­bly — only the Ital­ian ver­sion, prosecco, which ap­peared sat­is­fac­tory for an ini­tially peeved pas­sen­ger.

South Florida’s Bright­line is

not like tak­ing the bus — ei­ther in fares or com­fort. It is a mode of travel that, chances are, not many Florid­i­ans have ex­pe­ri­enced.

The train whis­pers as pas­sen­gers re­lax in leather re­clin­ing seats. Its doors swish on com­mand from an LED-en­hanced but­ton. At­ten­dants are chat­tyfriendly as they dis­pense bev­er­ages and snacks.

If an air­plane trip is about con­tort­ing peo­ple and lug­gage into a tubu­lar trap, Bright­line gives room to stand, stretch and stroll. There’s a cush­ioned bench at the end of each coach la­beled: “A good place to chat.”

Even the bath­rooms are hard to ig­nore, gi­gan­ti­cally more ac­com­mo­dat­ing than that of an air­plane.

Then there are the Bright­line sta­tions that are the stylish liv­ing rooms you don’t have, and, as the com­pany’s reps never miss an op­por­tu­nity to em­pha­size, are bright in per­son­al­ity.

“Pretty freak­ing awe­some,” said J.C. Sonkin, rid­ing for the first time, trav­el­ing from West Palm to Laud­erdale for a boat show.

Bright­line tickets aren’t in­ex­pen­sive, with the least costly fare about three times as much per mile as that of SunRail, the com­muter train in Cen­tral Florida.

A SunRail ride from the north­ern­most sta­tion in Vo­lu­sia County’s at DeBary to the south­ern­most sta­tion in Osce­ola County near Poin­ciana costs $5.

That 49-mile trip span­ning 16 sta­tions takes 90 min­utes. Riders pay about 10 cents per mile.

The base fare for a oneway Bright­line ticket from West Palm Beach to Mi­ami is $17 to $20. Span­ning three sta­tions, the 67-mile trip takes 74 min­utes.

At the base fare of $20, Bright­line riders pay about 30 cents per mile. At that rate, a ticket from Mi­ami to Or­lando would cost as much $70.

Bright­line rep­re­sen­ta­tives will not talk about po­ten­tial Or­lando fares.

“We know we have to be com­pa­ra­ble and com­pet­i­tive to the al­ter­na­tives,” said Bright­line spokesper­son Ali Soule.

A high-end Se­lect ticket from Mi­ami to West Palm Beach costs as much $40, or nearly 60 cents per mile. At that fare rate, a Se­lect ticket from Mi­ami to Or­lando would cost $140.

But the prosecco is un­lim­ited.

So when does Bright­line be­gin to rocket into Orange County to­ward Or­lando In­ter­na­tional Air­port on tracks ca­pa­ble of 125 mph — which to­day would rank as the na­tion’s sec­ond-fastest train?

Bright­line rep­re­sen­ta­tives are still say­ing rail con­struc­tion will start this year, with ser­vice to the air­port in 2021. They de­clined this week to pro­vide fur­ther de­tail.

Nearly $1.7 bil­lion has been in­vested in Bright­line rail ser­vice and for real-es­tate de­vel­op­ment at its South Florida sta­tions.

The all-in cost, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany, in­clud­ing track to Or­lando and the sta­tion at Or­lando’s air­port will be $4 bil­lion.

Ear­lier this month, Bright­line filed an ap­pli­ca­tion with the Florida Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion to ex­tend ser­vice from Or­lando to Tampa, us­ing rightof-way along In­ter­state 4 and other state roads.

That ap­pli­ca­tion, the only one filed with the state, is to be re­leased pub­li­cally by the state at the end of the month.

For now, Bright­line caters to South Florid­i­ans tak­ing in a Mi­ami Heat game, con­cert or din­ner. It de­liv­ered sup­port­ers of An­drew Gil­lum to a Mi­ami rally.

It is pop­u­lar for those who at­tend boat shows, which are re­ally big in South Florida. It is packed on week­ends with peo­ple out to play.

On week­days, it is clearly a com­muter train for those who can af­ford it.

“I nor­mally would not take pub­lic trans­porta­tion,” said Noah Sheer of Mi­ami.

Bright­line’s Mi­ami sta­tion is at a cross­roads of pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

The sta­tion is a short walk from a stop for Mi­amiDade Tran­sit’s Metro­mover.

That’s an au­to­mated train with 21 sta­tions along 4.4 miles of track in the core of Mi­ami that runs for free from 5 a.m. to mid­night daily on this stated sched­ule: “Trains ar­rive fre­quently.”

Bright­line’s Mi­ami sta­tion is next door to Metro­rail, an el­e­vated, 25-mile, 23-sta­tion, dual-track sys­tem, span­ning Mi­ami In­ter­na­tional Air­port and sub­urbs.

In turn, Metro­rail con­nects to Tri-Rail, a northsouth com­muter train run­ning 70 miles through Mi­ami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties.

Jaswant Lal­wani re­cently took the train for a busi­ness meet­ing from Fort Laud­erdale to Mi­ami and back.

“I think it’s one of the best ser­vices in the U.S.,” Lal­wani said.

His one quib­ble was that Bright­line does not have suf­fi­cient sig­nage, guid­ing riders to the other rail ser­vices.

“They should make that more seam­less,” he said. “Bright­line is scor­ing 99 right now. They could make it 100.”

Soule said New York ar­chi­tect and de­signer David Rock­well, who has also done work for JetBlue, had a lead­ing role in de­vel­op­ing the look and feel of the train.

Soule said she has heard some Bright­line pas­sen­gers mention be­ing re­minded of JetBlue styling.

“Ev­ery­thing you see on Bright­line is de­signed specif­i­cally for Bright­line,” Soule said. “You won’t see it on any other train.”

An­other com­po­nent of Bright­line is its real es­tate de­vel­op­ment in South Florida.

At the Mi­ami sta­tion, Bright­line is build­ing tow­ers for apart­ments and com­mer­cial space.

It is do­ing in a sparsely de­vel­oped area of Mi­ami. Ad­ja­cent prop­er­ties in­clude sur­face park­ing lots and a field where the for­mer Mi­ami Heat arena was de­mol­ished.

Bright­line has no such real-es­tate vi­sions for Or­lando, a city that rep­re­sents a dif­fer­ent value for Bright­line.

“Or­lando is ob­vi­ously the big­gest tourism mar­ket in the coun­try,” Soule said. “Here you an­chored by the gate­way to Latin Amer­ica. So we be­lieve th­ese two cities are a very com­pli­men­tary pair.”

KEVIN SPEAR/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Bright­line rail ser­vice of­fers cham­pagne to pas­sen­gers.

KEVIN SPEAR PHO­TOS/ OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Bright­line sta­tions are airy and light, mim­ick­ing sleek liv­ing rooms.

“I think it’s one of the best ser­vices in the U.S.,” says Jaswant Lal­wani, who re­cently took the train from Fort Laud­erdale to Mi­ami for a busi­ness meet­ing.

A Bright­line en­gine at the West Palm Beach sta­tion.

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