Brightline trains are leaving the station, but it's not quite yet full steam ahead for the express rail service being built between West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. That could pose a problem for Miami-Dade County's long-term transit plan, officials told the Miami Herald last week.
The county had been planning to pay to use the tracks used by Brightline for trains making local stops on a Miami-to-Aventura route, the so-called "northeast" corridor of the SMART (Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit) Plan. But negotiations between Miami-Dade and the privately financed, for-profit company came to a halt recently because Brightline said it may want to operate the local trains itself.
The catch? It's not ready to commit just yet.
“Brightline is 100 percent focused on launching express passenger rail service this year,” the company told Miami Herald. “We will reengage with the county to discuss this transit corridor once our system is fully operational.”
"Miami-Dade taxpayers have already invested in the effort to bring Tri-Rail to the Brightline tracks.
In 2015, Miami-Dade committed $14 million to build a $69 million Tri-Rail station in Brightline’s downtown Miami depot."
Testing is underway on phase one of the new trains, and work on the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale stations is nearly complete.
But the company hasn't finished its MiamiCentral station, finalized a launch date or announced ticket prices. Company CEO Dave Howard says that's all coming very soon.
"We want to get very highly confident in our launch dates before we express them," Howard told WLRN in a recent interview.
Howard says passengers should be able to ride the West Palm Beach-to-Fort Lauderdale portion of the line before the end of 2017, with service to Miami starting weeks after that.
Ticket prices, he adds, will be "comparable to the cost of driving."
"Along this corridor, it many times includes the premium associated with using the express lanes on I-95, parking, things of that nature."
The trains will offer Wi-Fi, food and beverage service, and, the company hopes, a significant time savings for commuters. The trip from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale is expected to take a little more than half an hour; the trip from Fort Lauderdale to Miami, a little less.
Phase two will extend train service north to Orlando, taking about two hours to get to the city's airport from West Palm Beach station; that route is tentatively scheduled to launch in 2020.
Howard says he thinks he’s got a clear idea of who the majority of passengers will be: commuters and tourists "who want to travel from city center to city center and take advantage of what we offer in terms of speed, convenience and productivity," he says.
Those passengers will likely include Howard himself. He says he plans to move to Fort Lauderdale and ride Brightline to his office at the MiamiCentral station.