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All Aboard! Brightline begins Miami to Orlando service

Brightline train arrived in Orlando, completing inaugural trip from Miami
Brightline train arrived in Orlando, completing inaugural trip from Miami 02:33

MIAMI - Brightline's official launch of its Miami to Orlando service ran into delays Friday morning after a pedestrian was struck and killed by one of their trains in Delray Beach

The train making the inaugural passenger run left the Miami station around 7:15 a.m. Friday morning.

"We've built something remarkable and I'm excited that soon millions of people throughout the state will get a chance to experience what you will see for the first time here this morning," said Brightline President Patrick Goddard before the train left the station. 

Brightline launches Miami to Orlando service 08:44

"It's an exciting day for Miami-Dade County and for all of Florida. We are already known as a tourism hub across the world and with the expansion of Brightline to Orlando, we are opening even more doors and we are elevating Florida's status as a global destination," said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Shortly after the train left Miami Central Station, Brightline said a person died after they walked in front of one of their trains at SE 2nd Avenue and SE 4th Street.

Safety has always been a concern for the high speed rail line. 

Brightline trains have the highest death rate in the U.S., fatally striking 98 people since Miami-West Palm operations began - about one death for every 32,000 miles its trains travel, according to an ongoing Associated Press analysis of federal data that began in 2019. The next-worst major railroad has a fatality every 130,000 miles.

None of the deaths have been found to be Brightline's fault - most have been suicides, drivers who go around crossing gates or pedestrians running across tracks. The company hasn't had a fatality since June, its longest stretch except during the pandemic shutdown.

Brightline has taken steps its leaders believe enhance safety, including adding closed-circuit cameras near tracks, installing better crossing gates and pedestrian barriers and posting signage that includes the suicide prevention hotline.

"We have invested heavily in the infrastructure so that we have a safe corridor," Reininger said. 'We continue to operate literally every day with safety at top of mind."

Friday's Brightline train to Orlando pulled into the station just after 11 a.m.

High Speed Rail Florida
Brightline passengers look at their phones, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023, in Aventura, Fla. Brightline is launching a new route from Miami to Orlando on Friday, Sept. 22. Marta Lavandier / AP

Brightline, which began running its neon-yellow trains the 70 miles between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2018, is the first private intercity passenger service to begin U.S. operations in a century. It's also building a line connecting Southern California and Las Vegas that it hopes to open in 2027 with trains that will reach 190 mph. 

"This is a pretty important moment, whether you're thinking about it in the context of the state of Florida or what it might mean for these kinds of products as they develop elsewhere in the United States," Brightline CEO Mike Reininger said in a recent interview. "The idea that my car is the only way for me to get where I need to go is being challenged by a new product. A new product that's safer, that's greener, that is a great value proposition (and) it's fun."

Brightline's new Miami to Orlando service, worth the cost? 02:06

The Florida trains, which run on biodiesel, will travel up to 79 mph in urban areas, 110 mph in less-populated regions and 125 mph through central Florida's farmland. Brightline plans possible extensions to Tampa and Jacksonville.

John Renne, director of Florida Atlantic University's Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions, said the Miami-Orlando corridor is a perfect spot for high-speed rail - about 40 million Floridians and visitors make the trip annually, with more than 90% of them driving.

If Brightline succeeds that could lead to more high-speed lines between major cities 200 to 300 miles apart, both by Brightline and competitors, he said.

"It is quite exciting for South Florida to kind of be a test bed for what could be seen as a new paradigm for transportation, particularly high-speed rail transportation, in the United States," Renne said.

Reininger said most of Brightline's Miami-Orlando passengers will come from those who drive the route regularly and others who stay home because they hate the drive. Prime targets are families headed to Orlando's theme parks and travelers to South Florida's nightlife, concerts, sports and cruises.

Tickets for the Orlando journey are $158 round-trip for business class and $298 for first-class, with families and groups able to buy four round-trip tickets for $398. Thirty-two trains will run daily.  

The drive between Miami and Orlando takes about four hours each way on Florida's Turnpike with round-trip tolls costing between $40 and $60. Gas costs between $50 and $80, plus wear and tear on the vehicle.

Reininger said his company's challenge is to convince travelers that its trains' amenities make any extra cost worthwhile.

"It's the value of your time," Reininger said. The train "gives you the ability to use your time that you are dedicating to travel in any number of ways that you can't do when you are behind the wheel."

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