The railroad world is abuzz with the opening of the new Brightline high speed rail service to Orlando, an extension of that private railroad’s existing train service down Florida’s east coast to Miami. This is really big news.
The $5 billion expansion to Orlando was privately financed but with generous tax exempt bonds the railroad will have to pay back. Still, this is the first for-profit passenger railroad in the U.S. in forty years.
How does Brightline compare with Metro-North? Let’s look at the basics:
DISTANCE: Brightline runs 235 miles from Miami to Orlando compared with Metro-North’s 67-mile run from Grand Central to New Haven, so they’re quite different. To be fair let’s just compare Metro-North to Brightline’s initial I-95 corridor service from Miami to West Palm Beach (70 miles).
FREQUENCY: Brightline trains run once or twice an hour from 7 a.m. to 12 midnight. Metro-North operates at least hourly from 5 a.m. to about 1 a.m.
SPEED: Though Brightline trains do run 125+ mph in some stretches enroute to Orlando, between West Palm and Miami the speed averages about 56 mph due to station stops and track conditions. Metro-North’s fastest run from New Haven to GCT averages 45 mph on its few super-expresses but more like 35 mph on the regular trains making local stops.
EQUIPMENT: Ah, that amazing “new train smell”! Brightline’s seven-coach trains were built (in the U.S.) by Siemens. They offer 2 by 2 seating for about 60 passengers per car. The leather seats recline, have power plugs and free Wi-Fi via Starlink satellite (at a smoking-fast 70 Mb/sec). All Brightline trains are powered by diesel engines. Metro-North’s M8 all-electric cars were built by Kawaski (also in the U.S.) and started in service in 2011. They offer 2 x 3 seating for about 100 passengers per car with power plugs in each row but no Wi-Fi — yet.
AMENITIES: Brightline offers comfy lounges and waiting rooms with snacks and beverages at stations for passengers. Metro-North offers no station amenities aside from a bench on the platform and, if you’re lucky, a waiting room.
FARES: Brightline fares between West Palm and Miami start at $41 roundtrip ($84 in first class). The new railroad also offers big discounts for families and groups. Commuters can buy discounted 12 and 40 trip tickets. On Metro-North their New Haven to GCT start at $47 roundtrip with similar discounts for seniors and multi-ride commuters. But there is no first class on Metro-North.
FIRST MILE / LAST MILE: You can’t take the train if you can’t get to the station, so Brightline makes that easy, offering free shuttles to and from their stations as well as car parking. Metro-North offers parking at Connecticut stations (which are owned by CDOT and administered by the towns and cities). Some towns have a 5-year waiting list for permits.
SAFETY: Brightline is the deadliest railroad in the U.S. as it regularly sees collisions at its 315 grade-crossings between Miami and Orlando. Since its start in 2019, 98 people have died, most of them suicides. Metro-North also sees a large number of suicides but because there are no grade crossings on the mainline, it’s nearly impossible for its trains crash into cars or trucks.
So yes, Brightline is a big deal in the transportation world. But it’s not true HSR (high speed rail) in the global sense of the phrase.