By early 2023, the journey between Miami and Orlando should get a whole lot easier. Unbearable traffic, pricey refuels, road rage, and steep carbon footprints will be things of the past as Florida enters an age of high-speed train travel.
This welcomed change comes courtesy of Brightline, an ecofriendly, high-speed train company scheduled to commence service between Miami and Orlando early next year. It’s the latest plot point in a series of game-changing transportation improvements transforming the state.
Brightline 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. Anchored by glass-encased futuristic stations (with fab work pods and watering holes), 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).
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—with service almost hourly from early morning to late night. The trip clocks in under 30 minutes between Miami and Fort Lauderdale and another 35 between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, less than half the typical travel time by car (during rush hour).
While the trains take passengers from one downtown to the next, Brightline also offers door-to-door service through Brightline+, a Brightline-branded fleet of electric cars. When booking a train, riders have the option of booking an electric vehicle to pick them up or drop them off anywhere within a five-mile radius of the station. (At press time, this service is complimentary–and is also working out some kinks.)
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, where complimentary snacks and beverages (including alcoholic) 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.
Tickets in Smart begin at $10 for the journey between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, $27 in Premium. For Miami to West Palm Beach, fares start at $15 in Smart and $37 in Premium. Put in perspective, a rideshare typically costs $50–$75 from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and over $100 between Miami and West Palm Beach.
Note that Brightline also runs plenty of promos at any given time, most of which can be found on its website. For example, this South Florida–based writer is currently enjoying an unlimited monthly pass for $199 to commute between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
The Brightline experience
The three Brightline stations currently in operation bear similar modern aesthetics, underscored by wide reception halls, cantilevered spaces above the tracks, geometric furnishings, and floor-to-ceiling windows. 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. 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’s a sit-down bar in every train station, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and some pretty awesome cocktails) plus 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 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 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.
On board, Brightline’s Wi-Fi exists at lightning-fast speed, strong enough for streaming and video calls. The network is the same across all stations and trains, avoiding connectivity interruptions.
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. Much like all the people working for Brightline that I’ve met, the on-board attendants are affable and customer-service oriented. This extends to the security screeners, baggage handlers, bar staff—you name it. Such an elevated hospitality-driven experience is refreshing, especially when service levels at hotels, restaurants, and on airlines seem to be hitting all-time lows.
The future of Brightline
Construction is underway for an Aventura station (between Miami and Fort Lauderdale) as well as a Boca Raton station (between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach), both set to debut by December 2022. Additionally, tracks connecting West Palm Beach and Orlando are nearing completion. The station, which will be located at Orlando International Airport, should start welcoming passengers in early 2023. Once these three destinations are in service, 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 just a three-hour ride. Construction is expected to begin 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.