Virgin Trains USA
Virgin Trains USA, formerly Brightline, is an express inter-city rail system in Florida, United States. The company is a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), where it initially operated under the name, "All Aboard Florida." It is currently owned and operated by Fortress Investment Group, with Virgin Group providing branding rights and acting as a minority investor. Virgin Trains USA is currently the United States' only privately owned and operated intercity passenger railroad.
|Service type||Inter-city rail|
|Current operator(s)||Virgin Trains USA|
|Former operator(s)||All Aboard Florida (2018–19)|
|Ridership||3 million per year (predicted, includes service to Orlando)|
|Annual ridership||579,205 (2018)|
|Stops||3 operational, 1 planned, 2 proposed|
|Distance travelled||240 mi (390 km)|
|Average journey time||1'15" Miami–West Palm Beach|
3 hours Miami–Orlando (planned)
|Service frequency||Hourly Monday through Friday; hourly to bi-hourly Saturday and Sunday|
|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)||Florida East Coast Railway|
Virgin Trains USA's service runs between Miami and West Palm Beach with a single intermediate stop at Fort Lauderdale. The Fort Lauderdale–West Palm Beach segment opened on January 13, 2018, followed by Fort Lauderdale–Miami on May 19. An extension from West Palm Beach to Orlando via Cocoa is planned to open in late 2021 or early 2022, and more extensions are planned.
Virgin Trains USA's diesel–electric locomotive-hauled trains run alongside freight trains in a shared-use corridor that was upgraded from a pre-existing Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) freight train corridor. The future West Palm Beach–Cocoa segment will be constructed in a similar fashion, while 40 mi (64 km) of new track will be constructed in the State Road 528 corridor for the remainder of the extension, between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport.
On September 18, 2018, Brightline announced the acquisition of XpressWest, a private company with the goal of connecting 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 with the initial journey projected for 2022.
In November 2018, it was announced that Brightline would have its name changed to Virgin Trains USA, coinciding with the Virgin Rail Group taking a minority shareholding in the concession, with Fortress continuing to hold controlling interest. It was formally rebranded on April 4, 2019.
Origins and historyEdit
In March 2012, Florida East Coast Industries (FECI) announced plans to operate a rail service between Miami and Orlando. The cost of all construction is projected at $1.5 billion. In March 2013, All Aboard Florida applied for a $1.6 billion Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan, which is administered by the Federal Railroad Administration. In late 2014, the company announced it had 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 Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the full build-out service was released in September 2014, and a series of public comment meetings followed. The Final Environmental Impact Statement was released on August 4, 2015. As of the start of 2015, the company has started site work at the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach stations, plus right of way improvements along stretches of the corridor.
Service between Miami and West Palm Beach began on May 19, 2018, with service to Orlando projected to start in 2021. On November 10, 2015, All Aboard Florida announced that the service would operate under the name Brightline.
Success in densely-populated southeast Florida does not mean that the planned service extension further to the north has met with universal approval. 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 a private corporation, so they should not be allowed to issue tax-exempt bonds as if they were a municipality. As of Fall 2018 this legal fight has been going on for four years, during which time no progress on extending the line north of Palm Beach has been made. However in December, Federal District Judge Christopher Cooper on Christmas Eve threw out a suit by Indian River County that claimed the U.S. Department of Transportation improperly approved the bond allocation for Brightline, formerly All Aboard Florida. Dismissal of the lawsuit apparently clears the way for construction of the new rail corridor through the Treasure Coast and Space Coast. In April 2019 the company secured $1.75 billion in funding for the Orlando extension.
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 is 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, has been named general contractor for the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale stations.
In January 2015, crews started replacing track throughout the corridor. The system between Miami and West Palm Beach was projected to be operational by the first quarter of 2018, and to Orlando by late 2020. All Aboard Florida secured leasing of easement rights alongside the Beachline from the Central Florida Expressway Authority for $1.4 million in December 2015. As part of the contract, “it is understood and agreed” All Aboard Florida will be considering an extension to Jacksonville, Florida.
Phase 2 of the construction between West Palm Beach and Orlando is behind the original schedule. Company officials now say construction may start in early 2019, with service to Orlando commencing in late 2021 or early 2022. The deadline for the associated bond sale has been extended to the end of 2018. The company is also seeking a federal loan to help finance phase 2 construction. On August 29, 2018, Brightline got the approval for $1.15 billion in tax-free bonds for expansion to Orlando. On December 13, 2018, Company President Patrick Goddard said during an update with the Central Florida Expressway Authority governing board that Brightline will give its contractor a 30-day notice to proceed on the $2.1 billion route on February 1. The company will then proceed with construction after those 30 days, with a goal of completing the route in 30 to 36 months. Completion of the project would be set for either fourth-quarter 2020 or first-quarter 2021. When asked about who the contractor would be, Brightline spokeswoman Ali Soule told Orlando Business Journal that more details would be revealed about the project closer to construction. Construction was scheduled to start in March 2019. and be finished by late 2021 or early 2022. Completion is now set for 2022.
Brightline launched introductory services prior to January 7, 2018, though these runs were not open to the public. Public operations between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale began Saturday, January 13.
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 the Brightline train occurred on January 1, 2019, after a pedestrian was struck and thrown into a canal.
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).
To cover the distance between Orlando and Miami in the desired time of about three hours, Brightline trains will have to operate with an overall average speed of 80 miles per hour (129 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. By comparison, the approximate driving time for this distance is about four hours, with an average speed of 60 mph (97 km/h).
Pre-existing Miami–Cocoa Corridor upgradesEdit
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 the Florida Department of Transportation 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, All Aboard Florida has 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 freight and Brightline trains, though horns may still be used in emergency situations.
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 moveable 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. All Aboard Florida 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.
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. However, it determined that the right of way was too narrow to accommodate the tracks, additional utility lines, and any future roadway expansions. 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 is now proposed to start in 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.
This segment of the proposed line will operate at speeds of up to 125 mph (201 km/h) and will meet the United States Code's definition of High-speed rail, which includes rail services that are "reasonably expected to reach sustained speeds of more than 125 miles per hour". The Congressional Research Service uses the term "higher" speed rail for top speeds up to 150 mph (241 km/h).
All Aboard Florida is constructing two maintenance facilities for their Brightline service. The first 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, which will be renovated for the workshop. The facility, named "workshop b," will be able to handle four 10-car train sets, and includes a maintenance pit for access to the underside of the trains. More extensive maintenance/repair will be accomplished at a second site near the Orlando International Airport Intermodal Terminal
The route is made up of the following stations, from north to south:
|Orange County||Orlando Airport||Planned||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
Between Miami and West Palm Beach, there are 17 round trips Monday through Friday, and ten and nine on Saturdays and Sundays, respectively.
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. Analyst Fitch Ratings has said that the company can 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 which offer parking at the rate of $6 per day, eff. July 1, 2018.
The downtown Miami station, known as Miami (not to be confused with Miami Central Station, now known as Miami Intermodal Center, near Miami International Airport), spans nine acres located just east of Miami-Dade County Hall and includes 3 million square feet 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 officially 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 BeachEdit
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.
The Orlando station will be included as part of the new Orlando International Airport Intermodal Terminal at Orlando International Airport. A proposed future extension of the Orlando area's SunRail commuter rail to the airport would connect at the terminal. Before the trains enter the Orlando Airport, Virgin Trains has also established a station at Walt Disney World where construction will take 30-36 months to build.
In September 2014, All Aboard Florida announced an order of five Siemens trainsets. Each Brightline train set initially consists of four passenger coaches, with a 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 240 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 last trainset arrived in South Florida in October 2017.
Brightline offers two classes of service: "Select" and "Smart," with one and three coaches available on each trainset, respectively. "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 240 passengers.
|2017||Siemens Mobility||SCB-40||10 units||4,000 hp (3,000 kW)||264,556 lb (120,001 kg)|
Brightline has expressed interest in adding a station on Florida's Treasure 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 in the 1960s, has expressed interest. The city of Stuart has also indicated that it will be negotiating for a potential station.
Brevard County (comprising the Palm Bay–Melbourne–Titusville, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area) has been lobbying for a Brightline stop as part of the expansion to Orlando, as the line will pass through the county. In 2016, the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization selected a site on Clearlake Road in Cocoa as its proposal to Brightline. As of February 2018, Brightline had not communicated a decision on the proposal.
Brightline has announced intentions to extend the line to other areas when the initial phase is complete. Jacksonville is a likely expansion destination, as the Florida East Coast Railway already owns tracks running there.
In June 2018, Brightline began participation in a Request for Proposal process with the Florida Department of Transportation for the leasing of right-of-way along I-4 between Orlando and the Tampa Bay Area. Documents released preliminary to an IPO contained further details about the proposed line, including a possible stop at Walt Disney World, a fare of $35, and travel time of one hour. In November 2018, Florida DOT granted Brightline permission to negotiate with the Central Florida Expressway Authority for the leasing of the right-of-way. Brightline has also proposed connecting with the Sunrail Meadow Woods station as part of this line.
On September 18, 2018, Brightline announced the acquisition of XpressWest, a private company developing a high-speed rail project connecting Las Vegas with Southern California via Victorville, California. Brightline announced its intent of purchasing 38 acres of land near the Las Vegas Strip for a station and building the line following the Interstate 15 corridor from Las Vegas to Southern California, with the entry into service projected for 2022.
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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