Looking to Expand Train Route to Orlando by 2021
Plans to expand Brightline’s Miami-to-West Palm Beach route to Orlando received a significant boost on Aug. 29 when the Florida Development Finance Corp., at a meeting at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport, voted unanimously, 3-0, to approve $1.15 billion in federal tax-exempt bonds and the refinancing of $600 million of private-equity bonds that had already been approved. The company wants to complete this portion of the route by 2021 and has also started working towards expanding it to Tampa.
Brightline, which is owned by Fortress Investment Group, has already experienced success on the part of the route that’s already completed. It started running trains from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 13 before expanding service to Miami on May 19. Those who had driven between Miami and Fort Lauderdale were happy that this alternative was presented to them, one that cut past all of the rush-hour traffic. In fact, Brightline’s trains can get up to a speed of 79 miles per hour on this part of the route while cars on Interstate 95 traveling it do so at about 34 mph.
The trains that are already running from West Palm Beach to Miami as well as those that will go on to Orlando and, most likely, Tampa have and are expected to continue to bring economic growth to the Sunshine State, partly due to the removing of cars from the clogged highways and partly by providing tourists with more travel options as they explore all of the attractions that these areas of Florida have to offer.
Currently, trains from Miami to West Palm Beach run several times a day from the morning to the evening with more on the tracks during the week and fewer on the weekends. The trip lasts 74 minutes and includes the intermediary stop in Fort Lauderdale. Riders on this route get to enjoy sitting in leather seats and taking advantage of power outlets, USB ports and complimentary internet. Additionally, the beautiful MiamiCentral station has received accolades with its eateries, shops and residences.
Discover a new way to get around South Florida with #gobrightline! We’re giving first-time riders a $10 credit when they set up a new account. Create yours today and start riding. We saved you a seat! pic.twitter.com/kygMAA6E64
— Brightline (@GoBrightline) September 9, 2018
There is also talk of another station being added to the new part of the route, on the east coast prior to the trains heading inland towards Orlando. At the moment, five cities are being considered for that: Cocoa, Fort Pierce, Sebastien, Stuart and Vero Beach.
Additionally, Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park, said after the bond was approved that he’s pleased at the amount of financial impact that is going to take place as a result of it. “This not only creates 2,000 jobs and $2.4 billion worth of economic impact … but it creates billions of dollars in jobs and job opportunities in Miami, West Palm, Orlando and throughout our state.”
Brightline President Patrick Goddard added that adding Orlando to the train line’s route is expected to create 6,600 jobs in Central Florida and bring $400 million worth of construction opportunities to the area. He also said that the ridership and revenue figures that his company has recorded continues to improve every month and that he expects that to continue for the foreseeable future, including as Brightline expands to Orlando.
However, not everybody is on board with these plans. Those in Treasure Coast communities, specifically Indian River and Martin Counties, have brought lawsuits against Brightline and voiced concerns about quality-of-life impacts and safety, environmental and economic concerns in relation to these trains traversing through their communities. In response, officials have been working with these communities to consider stops and other actions that should be put into motion to ensure that everybody is on board with these developments.
One economic concern that was pointed out by Dylan Reingold, an Indian River County attorney, was that only 74,780 people paid a total of $663,667 for tickets from January-March. He said that those figures indicated that what Fortress Investment Group is overseeing would not be a financial success. However, as Patrick Goddard, Brightline’s chief executive, responded, service to Miami did not start until May, and it’s not fair to look at numbers for a route that, at the period being looked at, only ran from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach.
Fortress Investment Group, which was co-founded by Wes Edens, Randal Nardone and Rob Kauffman in 1998 before being purchased by SoftBank Group in 2017, has invested in a number of organizations over the years. The fields that Fortress Investment Group focus on are financial services, health care, infrastructure, media, real estate and transportation.
In May, All Aboard Florida moved into new offices at Orlando International Airport’s Intermodal Terminal Facility, which is where Miami-to-Orlando trains that will start running in a few years will end their journeys. The day after Brightline’s bond was approved, SunRail, Orlando’s commuter rail system, announced that it is considering expanding to the airport as well to connect with Brightline (https://gobrightline.com/) and direct rail transportation to Miami as well as possibly Tampa in addition to the international flights departing from the airport. Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission members said that SunRail could expand to 24-7 service as a result.
Looking past Orlando, Brightline has already submitted a proposal to the Florida Department of Transportation to use Interstate 4’s median between Orlando and Tampa to build a train route there. The FDOT’s decision is expected to be made in November.
Fortress Investment Group and Brightline have also looked at starting up rail service in other areas of the country, including Chicago-St. Louis, Atlanta-Charlotte and Dallas-Houston connections.
For more information on Fortress Investment Group, click here.