Courtesy of Brightline
The nation's first private high-speed rail service will open this month in Florida, promising to transform the congested roads of South Florida by taking 3 million cars off the highway.
The ambitious Brightfield express project of $ 3 billion along the densest population corridor in the state with more than 6 million residents and a regular influx of tourists. The project, funded by All Aboard Florida, represents the first test of the long-awaited US move to high-speed rail, says John Renne, director of the Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions at Florida Atlantic University.
"It's the first time it happens, it's being built by a private company," says Here & Now & # 39; s Jeremy Hobson. "And that's a kind of game-changer for this kind of model."
The model includes the development of stores, restaurants and condominiums around the stations. All Aboard Florida received state approval in October to sell bonds to finance the project. The company has said that public money will not be used.
When the service starts this month, Brightline trains will run from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale. The service will be expanded to downtown Miami early next year and probably to Orlando in the future. Renne says the trip from West Palm to Miami, which can take up to five hours in a car, will take approximately 60 minutes on the train.
In addition to cutting travel times, Renne says that the construction of mixed-use private real estate developments in each station will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue. He explains that the potential revenue was lost when the government changed control of transportation to the public sector in the 1920s.
"When that happened, we lost the connection between the development of the stations and the rail service itself, and we started to build many parking lots around the stations, "he says. More people stopped using public transport because "once they are in their car, they could drive all the way".
Renne says that Brightline trains will have their own set of dedicated tracks, built alongside the 19th century lines that still carry freight trains. The return to passenger trains will rekindle a line that stopped running on those old tracks in the 1960s, with the arrival of the federal highway program.
"The federal highway system was expanded … and everyone got off the trains and got into the cars." John Guitar of All Aboard Florida said here and now in 2014. "And we have Completed a circle now that traffic, congestion and gas prices are so bad, people are looking for alternatives to get out of their cars and find other ways to move around the state. "
The project also provoked outrage. Two counties along the rich Treasure Coast sued to stop the Brightline project, arguing that it poses significant safety concerns and that it would likely delay travelers in the cars. Most of those demands have been rejected or withdrawn.
The $ 18 billion state navigation industry is also concerned. A system of drawbridges allows fishing boats and luxury yachts to pass through the busy waterways of South Florida. But the bridges must stay down when the trains are in the area. In 2014, Jim Naugle of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida said here and now Peter O & # 39; Dowd that the train traffic will cause congestion in the water.
"The economic impact of the marine industry here is greater than the economic impact of All Aboard Florida and its service to Orlando," Naugle said. "They need to find a way to preserve that trade."
In 2015, the navigation industry and All Aboard Florida reached an agreement on the use of the drawbridge in Fort Lauderdale after a Coast Guard test proved successful in allowing both ships and trains to pass.  There are also concerns that development along the railroad will increase the cost of living in an area that already lacks affordable housing, says Renne, which could deter other states seeking to launch privately financed train systems.
"Housing is very expensive, so when you build new homes in these particular places, They have a lot of demand from people who want to live nearby, "he says.
All Aboard Florida has not yet confirmed the price of Brightline tickets. A study commissioned by the company in 2015 suggests that it will cost at least $ 16 to travel from West Palm to Miami, approximately $ 10 more than the price to travel on a similar route in the South Florida passenger train.
Although All Aboard Florida refers to Brightline as "high-speed rail," Renne says that real speed pales in comparison to overseas trains. He says that Brightline trains will reach a maximum of 120 miles per hour and will run even slower (around 80 mph) during deployment.
Florida has a long history of controversy over the high-speed train. In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott rejected a $ 2 billion federal loan to build a fast train because of financial responsibility.
Renne says All Aboard Florida is betting that if it can not earn enough money on ticket revenue, the real estate next to the stations will fill the gap.
"The research shows that the transport service itself seldom makes a profit," he says. "But when you combine real estate and development opportunities with transportation, you can … reach a very profitable result."