Brightline, an ecofriendly, high-speed train company, has been changing how people live, work, and play in south Florida since it launched its first high-speed train service in 2018 between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Soon after, it expanded to downtown Miami. Then, in December 2022, it opened stations in Aventura and Boca Raton, two upscale—and traffic-heavy—resort and shopping destinations in dire need of public transportation.
Next up: The taxing journey between Miami and Orlando will get a whole lot easier later in 2023, when Brightline plans to commence service between the two cities, the latest plot point in a series of game-changing transportation improvements transforming the state.
Nowadays, getting between Miami, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach feels effortless thanks to Brightline. The privately funded, multi-billion-dollar rail service currently whisks passengers at 79 mph between these key cities on tricked-out trains (that run on clean biodiesel fuel), providing friendly, top-notch service all along the way (a rarity in travel these days). Unbearable traffic, pricey refuels, road rage, and steep carbon footprints already feel like a distant past as Florida enters an age of high-speed train travel.
Here, all you need to know about the state’s high-speed rail service—present and future—and why you’ll want to ditch the car on your next trip to Florida.
Current Brightline destinations
Brightline currently operates between three major metropolises—Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach—and the two smaller cities of Aventura and Boca Raton. Service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach runs almost hourly from early morning to late night. Some of the trains run nonstop between these cities while others make quick stops in Boca Raton (between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale) and Aventura (between Fort Lauderdale and Miami).
At press time, there are 18 trains daily between Miami and West Palm Beach, 7 of which stop in Fort Lauderdale, and 11 of which stop in Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, and Boca Raton. The trip clocks in at 17 minutes between Miami and Aventura; a total of around 30 minutes between Miami and Fort Lauderdale; 16 minutes between Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton; and 35 minutes total between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. These times are less than half the typical travel time by car (and about one-third if accounting for rush hour).
While the trains take passengers from one station to the next, Brightline also offers door-to-door service through Brightline+. When booking a train, riders have the option of scheduling a private or shared Uber aligned with train times to pick them up or drop them off anywhere within a five-mile radius of the station. Brightline+ also offers complimentary, walk-up fixed route shuttles and walk-up EV golf shuttles. For example, at the Miami station there are route shuttles to Miami International Airport and to South Beach that leave 10 minutes after train arrivals and golf carts to go to spots in Downtown and Wynwood.
How much do Brightline tickets cost?
Before purchasing a ticket on the Brightline app or website, you’ll need to first choose between two classes of service: “Smart” and “Premium.” Both promise comfy seats, free Wi-Fi, and the greater Brightline train experience. However, Premium means seating in Coach 1 (versus 2, 3, or 4), where complimentary snacks and beverages (including alcoholic drinks) are provided along with slightly roomier seats. It also grants access to the predeparture lounges at train stations, where bites and tipples are also available. (Note: All five stations boast Premium lounges.)
Currently, tickets in Smart begin at $6.50 for the journey between Miami and Aventura, $27 in Premium. Between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, fares start at $10 in Smart, $27 in Premium. For Miami to West Palm Beach, fares commence at $15 in Smart and $37 in Premium. Put in perspective, a rideshare typically costs $25–$60 from Miami or Fort Lauderdale to Aventura, $45–$75 from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, and over $75–$100 between Miami and West Palm Beach.
Purchasing several days in advance is the best way to get the lowest standard fare. In addition, Brightline runs plenty of promos at any given time, most of which you can find on its website. The best offers are typically for larger groups or frequent riders. For example, this South Florida–based writer is currently enjoying an unlimited monthly pass for $229 to commute between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
The Brightline experience
The five Brightline stations currently in operation bear similar futuristic aesthetics, underscored by wide reception halls, walkways above the tracks, and geometric furnishings. They’re solar powered and rife with ecofriendly design elements like the highest tech Dyson hand dryers in the restrooms and water refill stations.
Riders are encouraged to arrive 15 minutes before scheduled departure, but boarding doesn’t close until 5 minutes prior. (At less than 5 minutes, tickets no longer work to pass through the boarding gates.) There are check-in counters upon entering for those who need to drop large suitcases, but most will skip this area and go directly upstairs to security screening. It typically takes a minute to self-scan your ticket from the app and get your smaller carry-on bags screened.
Once through, the predeparture area consists of stylish seating areas and work pods aplenty, with no shortage of plugs or USB chargers. There are sit-down bars in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, which serve hot food and artisanal cocktails. All five stations feature a grab-and-go market that’s fully autonomous (think: a minibar that automatically charges when you touch things but on a much larger scale). There’s also a predeparture lounge in every station for those who splurge on Premium class.
Once boarding is announced and the train approaches the track, you’ll notice Brightline’s signature yellow exterior. Inside, the colors skew neutral and the cars are spacious. Interior aisles measure an ample 32 inches, making it easy to maneuver rolling suitcases, strollers, and even wheelchairs. The train seats look and feel like premium economy airline seats; there’s plenty of legroom and elbow room plus an in-seat recline that slides forward instead of landing on the lap of the passenger behind. Each seat also features two USB ports and two outlets, so you can charge all your electronics at once.
During the journey in Smart class, attendants stroll through the aisles with food and beverage for purchase. In Premium, riders receive one snack and two drinks of their choice from the roving cart. When the cart does pass by, don’t be surprised if an attendant chats with you. In my experience, the on-board attendants are incredibly affable and customer-service oriented. This high service standard extends to the security screeners, baggage handlers, and bar staff, too. Such an elevated hospitality-driven experience is refreshing, especially when service levels at hotels and restaurants and on airlines seem to be hitting all-time lows. On the other hand, if something goes wrong, and you need to contact customer service by phone, don’t expect the same caliber of excellence.
On board, Brightline offers complimentary Wi-Fi. When the service first launched, said Wi-Fi raged at lightning-fast speed, strong enough for streaming and video calls. Nowadays, from personal experience, it seems about as reliable as mediocre Amtrak Wi-Fi (womp womp!), and despite complaints, it doesn’t seem to be improving anytime soon.
The future of Brightline
Tracks connecting West Palm Beach and Orlando are nearing completion. The station, which will be located at Orlando International Airport, should start welcoming passengers later in 2023. Once Orlando is finalized, Brightline will head to Tampa, Florida, soon after, while also embarking on a West Coast equivalent: an express train connecting Southern California and Las Vegas in a three-hour ride. Construction is expected to begin later in 2023.
For now, Brightline is actively transforming the way people live and vacation across South Florida. The high-speed, state-of-the-art trains are changing the face of local and regional travel, with the best yet to come.
Copyright 2023 AFAR Media. All rights reserved. From https://www.afar.com. By Paul Rubio.