Virgin Trains USA
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Brightline train at Fort Lauderdale station in December 2017
|Service type||Inter-city rail|
Higher-speed rail (post 2022)
|Current operator(s)||All Aboard Florida|
|Ridership||3 million per year (predicted, includes service to Orlando)|
|Annual ridership||885,000 (2019)|
|Stops||3 operational, 1 planned, 3 proposed|
|Distance travelled||240 mi (390 km) (includes service to Orlando)|
|Average journey time||Miami–West Palm Beach: 1 hour|
Miami–Orlando: 3 hours (planned)
|Service frequency||Weekdays: hourly|
Weekends: hourly to bi-hourly
|Line(s) used||Florida East Coast Railway|
|Disabled access||Level boarding, ADA|
|Seating arrangements||2×2 (smart)|
|Catering facilities||Onboard service carts|
|Baggage facilities||Checked baggage available|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Track owner(s)||Fortress Investment Group|
Brightline is a privately run higher-speed rail route between between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Brightline began operating over its current route in January 2018 and the company is currently building an extension to the Orlando International Airport which is expected to enter service in 2022.
As of August 2020[update], it is the only privately owned and operated intercity passenger railroad in the United States. Trains operate over tracks owned by the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC), which funded improvements to the route. FEC was later purchased by Fortress Investment Group, which is the current owner and operator of Brightline.
Fortress Investment Group is also investing in the construction of XpressWest, a high speed rail route between Las Vegas and Southern California. The route is being advertised as “A Brightline Company.”
In late 2018, it was announced that Virgin Group would become a minority investor in the railroad and would provide rights to rebrand the service as Virgin Trains USA. In August 2020, railroad managers announced that Virgin had not provided the agreed investment money and the company would be ending its branding deal, returning to the previous Brightline brand.
Origins and history
In 2012, Florida East Coast Industries (FECI) announced plans to operate passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando. The construction was projected at the time to be $1.5 billion. In March 2013, All Aboard Florida applied for a $1.6 billion Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan, which was administered by the Federal Railroad Administration, and in late 2014, the company applied for a $1.75 billion private activity bond allocation, with proceeds from the bond sale substantially reducing or replacing entirely the amount of the RRIF loan request.
The company received a Finding of No Significant Impact from the Federal Railroad Administration in January 2013, effectively clearing way for work to begin between Miami and West Palm Beach. The Final Environmental Impact Statement was released on August 4, 2015. By the beginning of 2015, the company had started site work at the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach stations, plus right of way improvements along stretches of the corridor. On November 10, 2015, All Aboard Florida announced that the service would operate under the name Brightline.
In September 2018, Brightline acquired XpressWest, a private company that intends to connect Las Vegas with Southern California via Victorville, California. Brightline announced the intent of purchasing 38 acres of land near the Las Vegas Strip for a station and following the Interstate 15 corridor from Las Vegas to Southern California.
Two key counties on the coastal route north of the West Palm Beach station have, for various reasons, been fighting the extension of the rail line through Martin and Indian River Counties in court. One of their objections is that Brightline is owned by a private corporation, so they should not be allowed to issue tax-exempt bonds as if they were a municipality. On December 24, 2018, after four years of legal battles, a Federal District Judge threw out a suit by Indian River County that claimed the U.S. Department of Transportation improperly approved the bond allocation, clearing the way for construction of the new rail corridor through the Treasure Coast and Space Coast.
In August 2020, railroad managers announced that Virgin had not provided the agreed investment money and the company would be ending its branding deal, returning to the previous Brightline Trains brand.
Construction began on the Miami to West Palm Beach section with the laying of new tracks and closure of the temporary surface lots in Government Center, Downtown Miami, in mid 2014. Preliminary work on the Miami station, such as site preparation and demolition, began later in the year. Suffolk Construction was the general contractor for the Miami station. Piles were being set on the four lots of MiamiCentral in early 2015.
On October 29, 2014, work on the Fort Lauderdale station began with the demolition of existing buildings on the site. A groundbreaking ceremony for the West Palm Beach station was held in November 2014. Moss & Associates, of Fort Lauderdale, was the general contractor for the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale stations.
In January 2015, crews started replacing track throughout the corridor. All Aboard Florida secured leasing of easement rights alongside the Beachline from the Central Florida Expressway Authority for $1.4 million in December 2015.
Construction work on Phase 2, between West Palm Beach and Orlando, officially began in June 2019, with a groundbreaking ceremony at Orlando International Airport. Preliminary work on the corridor began in September 2019, in the area of Jensen Beach and Sebastian, and begin path clearing for construction of the Orlando-to-Cocoa portion in October of that year.
As of May 2019[update], the contractors on the project were the Hubbard Construction Company, Wharton-Smith Inc., The Middlesex Corporation, Granite, and HSR Constructors. These five contractors are be responsible for the development of 170 miles of new track into the completed state-of-the-art intermodal facility located in the new South Terminal at the Orlando International Airport (MCO).
Closing during the COVID-19 pandemic
The route is made up of the following stations, from north to south:
|Orange County||Orlando Airport||2022||180 min||Orlando International Airport|
Lynx: Links 11, 42, 51, 111, 407 & 436S
SunRail Train to Plane: Link 111 Nonstop Express
|Palm Beach County||West Palm Beach||January 13, 2018||60 min||Palm Tran: 1, 40, 41, & The Bolt 1|
Palm Trolley: Yellow Line
Tri-Rail Commuter Connector: WPB-1
|Broward County||Fort Lauderdale||January 13, 2018||30 min||Broward County Transit (at Central Terminal): 1, 6, 9, 10, 11, 14, 20, 22, 30, 31, 40, 50, 60, 81, US 1 Breeze |
Sun Trolley: Downtown Link, Neighborhood Link, & NW Community Link
Tri-Rail Commuter Connector: FL-1, FL-3
|Miami-Dade County||Virgin MiamiCentral||May 19, 2018||–||Metrorail (at Government Center): Green Line, Orange Lines, Downtown Express|
Metromover (at Government Center): Omni Loop, Brickell Loop, Inner Loop
Metrobus (at Government Center: 2, 3, 7, 9, 11, 21, 51, 77, 93, 95, S (119), 120, 207, 208, 246, 277, 500
Broward County Transit (at Government Center): 95, 595
Miami Trolley: Coral Way
Tri-Rail Downtown Miami Link (Planned)
During the first two and a half months of introductory service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, ridership totaled 74,780, increasing from 17,800 in January to 32,900 in March 2018. The company itself announced that the ridership has been triple to what had been expected. The forecast provided to bond investors calls for 240,000 passengers per month by 2020, which includes service to Miami, and analyst Fitch Ratings has said that the company could break even at 56% of their ridership forecast.
The three South Florida stations were designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in association with Zyscovich Architects. Rockwell Group designed the interiors. All three have adjacent parking garages that offer parking at the rate of $6 per day, eff. July 1, 2018.
The downtown Miami station, known as Virgin MiamiCentral (not to be confused with Miami Central Station, now known as Miami Intermodal Center, near Miami International Airport), spans 9 acres (3.6 ha) located just east of Miami-Dade County Hall and includes 3 million square feet (280,000 m2) of mixed-use development with residential, office and commercial, and a retail concourse. The station connects Brightline with the Metrorail, Metromover, County bus and City of Miami trolley systems. The new Brightline station connects the following transit modes: 2 Metrorail stations, 2 Metromover stations, Metrobus, and the future Tri-Rail station. This increases connections to activities and tourist destinations, including the Performing Arts Center, Bayside Market and Bayfront Park. Service to Miami began on May 19, 2018.
The Fort Lauderdale station is located at NW 2nd Avenue between Broward Boulevard and NW 4th Street. The four-acre station site has a 60,000 sq ft (5,574 m2) station and platform. The Brightline train service in Ft. Lauderdale connects to the Sun Trolley and Broward County Transit system. Brightline also owns about three acres of land to the east of the Florida East Coast Railway corridor, where there are plans to build a transit-oriented development.
West Palm Beach
The West Palm Beach station is located between Datura and Evernia Streets and to the west of Quadrille. The two-acre station site has a 60,000 sq ft (5,574 m2) station and platform that connect with the neighborhood's existing vehicular, trolley and pedestrian networks and establish links to the Tri-Rail, Palm Tran Downtown Trolley and Amtrak West Palm Beach station.
In 2017, the new Orlando International Airport Intermodal Terminal at Orlando International Airport was opened. Virgin Trains USA will terminate at this station once the Orlando Extension is built.
Planned & proposed routes and destinations
As of September 2019, Virgin Trains USA is in negotiations with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to lease right-of-way along the Interstate 4 corridor. Virgin Trains was the only bidder to submit a proposal to construct an intercity rail line along Interstate 4, which has been designated for federally funded high-speed rail. This would be utilized for an extension of the line from Orlando International Airport to Downtown Tampa. Potential stops along this route are the SunRail Meadow Woods station, Walt Disney World, and Lakeland. The current[when?] deadline for the negotiations between Central Florida Expressway Authority, FDOT, and Virgin was March 31, 2020.
In 2019, Brightline operations sent a letter to the city of Boca Raton about the possibility of adding their city as an infill station along the Florida route. Virgin proposed constructing the station and rail infrastructure while the city would cover access and zoning requirements and costs. In December 2019, Boca Raton was officially chosen as a station site with the station, to be connected to Mizner Park via bridge, scheduled to be completed in late 2020.
In October 2019, Miami-Dade County allocated $76 million to build Aventura station at the Aventura Mall in Aventura, Florida, between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. At the time of the announcement, the projected opening date was October 2020.
Virgin Trains USA has expressed interest in adding a station on Florida's Treasure Coast and another on the Space Coast between West Palm Beach and Orlando. In August 2018, the company asked cities in the area to submit proposals for station locations. Fort Pierce, which last had passenger train service on July 31, 1968, has expressed interest. The city of Stuart has also indicated that it will be negotiating for a potential station.
Virgin Trains USA has indicated that Stuart is the most likely location for a Treasure Coast station, and that Cocoa would make the most sense for a Space Coast station, both because of proximity to Port Canaveral's cruise lines as well as for positioning for future expansion to Jacksonville. Neither station has been committed in writing, and both are pending market studies, as completion of the line to Orlando is the top priority for Virgin.
In 2020, it was revealed that Virgin was planning a commuter rail service to complement the higher-speed line. Trains would run between Miami Central and Aventura with up to five stations between.
On September 18, 2018, Fortress Investment Group announced that it would acquire XpressWest, a venture capital proposal to build a privately funded high-speed rail passenger train from Victorville, California to Las Vegas, Nevada from hotel developer Marnell Corrao Associates. When Fortress subsequently entered into its partnership with Virgin Group in 2019, it was announced that the newly formed consortium will build and operate XpressWest when it opens.
Upon full buildout of the Miami–Orlando route, trains will operate at up to 79 mph (127 km/h) between Miami and West Palm Beach, up to 110 mph (177 km/h) between West Palm Beach and Cocoa, and up to 125 mph (201 km/h) between Cocoa and the Orlando International Airport. A future extension to Tampa from Orlando would, if constructed, also allow trains to operate at up to 125 mph (201 km/h). It will be one of the few rail services in the United States to approach the UIC's high-speed rail standard of 160 miles per hour (250 km/h) for new rail or 120 miles per hour (200 km/h) for existing lines.
The planned travel time between Miami and Orlando is 3 hours. Driving between the two takes 3 1⁄2 hours using the Florida's Turnpike, and 3 3⁄4 hours using the I-95/SR 528 freeways along the planned train route via Cocoa. The flight time between MIA and MCO is one hour.
To meet the 3 hour schedule, trains will have to operate with an overall average speed of 80 miles per hour (130 km/h), which is similar to the overall average speed of the Acela Express operating on the Northeast Corridor between New York City and Washington, D.C.
Pre-existing Miami–Cocoa Corridor upgrades
The project calls for more than $1.5 billion in upgrades to the rail corridor between Miami and Cocoa. The company is double tracking the corridor, improving signaling systems, and upgrading every grade crossing to meet the highest applicable safety standards set by FDOT and Federal Railroad Administration. In January 2013, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Miami–Cocoa phase of the project, effectively clearing the way for work to begin. Part of the corridor safety upgrades includes installing positive train control (PTC), which will enhance Brightline's ability to monitor and control train movements safely.
Responding to citizen concerns about increased noise from additional horns, the company stated that it will work with local communities to implement quiet zones where possible. Federal law requires quiet zone requests to originate from the local authority that has jurisdiction over the roadway, not the railroad company.
In August 2014, the company announced a partnership with the Broward and Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organizations to implement quiet zones between the city of Hallandale Beach and 15th Street in West Palm Beach. In December 2014, the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization approved funding to construct quiet zones between PortMiami and the northern Miami-Dade County line. The quiet zones were originally planned to be in place when Brightline becomes operational between Miami and West Palm Beach by the end of 2017. Brightline started service on January 11, 2018, but various delays in constructing the quiet zones have stretched their in-service date to sometime in March.
On May 14, 2018, quiet zones went into effect in West Palm Beach, in Lake Worth on May 21 and in Boca Raton on May 30. The “no train horn” areas apply to all trains, freight and passenger. Quiet Zones remove the legal duty of a train engineer to sound the horn. Train engineers do still use the horn in quiet zones for emergency situations (such as a trespasser fouling the tracks ).
The FEC rail corridor includes a number of fixed-span bridges that will be replaced as part of the project. Most do not require United States Coast Guard (USCG) permitting as they do not span significant navigable waterways and clearances will not change. Twelve other bridges—St. Johns River, Eau Gallie River, St. Sebastian River, Crane Creek, Turkey Creek, West Palm Beach Canal, Boynton Canal, Middle River (both the North and South Fork), Oleta River, Arch Creek and Hillsboro Canal—will require permitting by the USCG. In addition, the project calls for significant investment and upgrades to three movable bridges: St. Lucie, Loxahatchee, and New River. These improvements will ensure that bridge mechanical systems for raising and lowering the bridge spans are either fully upgraded or replaced. The company has stated that, prior to it becoming operational, it will start to regularly notify mariners of scheduled bridge closings via the internet, smart phone application and countdown signage on the bridges to enable mariners to have real-time information to decrease wait times at each bridge. Also, the company will station a bridge tender at the New River bridge.
During the first six days of operation, two people were killed in separate incidents at railroad crossings along the line, after they attempted to cross the tracks while the gates were down.
During the first three months of operation, four people were killed by a Brightline train when they crossed the tracks illegally, with an additional three persons injured.
The 11th fatality associated with a Brightline train occurred on January 1, 2019, after a pedestrian was struck and thrown into a canal. As of November 16, 2019, according to anti-train advocacy group Alliance for Safe Trains, a total of 34 people had been killed in incidents involving Virgin Trains locomotives in Florida, although those include what are likely to have been suicides.
In December 2019, the AP produced a story based on FRA data that Virgin Trains USA had the worst per-mile death rate of the nation's 821 railroads. It stated that none of the deaths were the fault of the company.
The proposed line between Cocoa and Orlando is the only segment that does not have existing track or right-of-way owned by FEC. Originally, the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) believed it could accommodate building new tracks for the project within the BeachLine Expressway's 300-foot (91 m) wide right-of-way. This segment of the proposed line will operate at speeds of up to 125 mph (201 km/h).
CFX began negotiations with Deseret Ranch, which owns the land just south of the BeachLine, to purchase additional land in order to widen the right-of-way. According to a pact made on July 16, 2013, CFX tentatively agreed to pay $12 million for an extra 200 ft (61 m) along the 22-mile (35 km) BeachLine corridor between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport. In early October 2013, CFX and All Aboard Florida reached a formal purchase agreement for the land required for the right-of-way. Although construction was slated to originally begin in early 2015, construction of the segment started in May 22, 2019.
Also in October 2013, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA) board approved development of a station and maintenance facility on Orlando International Airport property, as well as an easement to build track between the station and the mainline to the coast.
Virgin Trains USA is constructing two maintenance facilities. One is a Running Repair Facility, located north of the West Palm Beach station at 601 15th Street, designed for maintenance and minor repair work that does not require the train to be removed from service. The 12-acre site has been under construction since at least January 2016. The land includes vintage industrial buildings that will be renovated for the workshop. The facility, named "workshop b," will include a maintenance pit for access to the underside of the trains and will be able to handle four 10-car train sets.
All Aboard Florida ordered of five Siemens trainsets in 2014. Each Brightline trainset initially consisted of four passenger coaches, with a Siemens Charger SCB-40 diesel-electric locomotive on each end. The coaches, with interiors designed by the LAB at Rockwell Group, feature ergonomic seating, Wi-Fi, level boarding, and meet ADA compliance standards. Each trainset holds 248 passengers. Working with All Aboard Florida, the LAB also conceived the Brightline name, brand platform, and visual identity. The entire trainset, including passenger cars, were manufactured by Siemens in its solar-powered plant in Florin, California. Once the route to Orlando is in operation, the trainsets will be expanded to seven coaches, and five more complete trainsets will be purchased. The first of five trainsets departed the Siemens factory on December 8, 2016, and arrived in West Palm Beach on December 14. The fifth trainset arrived in South Florida in October 2017.
The trains offers two classes of service, with one "Select" coach and three "Smart" coaches on each trainset. "Select" offers 2x1 and four-to-a-table seating with 50 21-inch (530 mm)-wide seats per car and complimentary snacks and beverages, while the slightly less expensive "Smart" fare coaches seat 66 with narrower 19-inch (480 mm)-wide seats, with snacks and beverages available for purchase. Each trainset is able to hold 248 passengers.
|2017||Siemens Charger SCB-40 locomotives||10 units||4,000 hp (3,000 kW)||264,556 lb (120,001 kg)|
|2017||Siemens Venture trainsets||5 trainsets of 4 cars (20 cars total)||unpowered||TBD|
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FECI envisions a three-hour trip between the cities at an average speed similar to the Acela between New York and Washington, DC... The initial 240-mile project between Orlando and downtown Miami is expected to cost $1 billion.
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The 225 mile (362km) New York Penn Station to Washington, DC takes 2 hours 48 minutes, an average of 80mph (129km/h).
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Virgin Trains USA.|
- Official website
- All Aboard Florida – Miami to Orlando Passenger Rail Service – Federal Railroad Administration