WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — On the eve of Brightline passenger rail launching in South Florida, the railroad already is looking beyond its original goal of service between Miami and Orlando.
Brightline’s intercity system could be expanded within Florida to Jacksonville or Tampa and could be replicated in other states with similar demographics, including Georgia and Texas, railroad officials said at a media event Friday.
“Our vision doesn’t stop here,” said Wes Edens, co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, Brightline’s parent company. “Our goal is to look at other corridors with similar characteristics — too long to drive, too short to fly.”
Brightline — the country’s only privately owned and operated passenger railroad — is to officially begin passenger service Saturday morning.
For now, trains will run between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. But the railroad will expand to Miami later this year, with full service to Orlando still two years away.
Elected officials and members of the media on Friday took the 40-minute trip on BrightGreen, one of Brightline’s five colorful diesel-electric trains.
It was a chance for the $3.1 billion railroad to show off the amenities they say will set Brightline apart from other forms of public transportation, including Tri-Rail, South Florida’s existing commuter rail.
Leather seats, wide aisles, bike racks, free wireless Internet — with two power outlets and two USB ports per seat — are among the amenities Brightline says will appeal to its target customers, which include tourists, business travelers and Millennials.
Friday’s event also was a chance for Brightline to introduce the staff that it says will provide world-class hospitality.
Train attendant Whytni Walker, 23, of West Palm Beach said she applied to Brightline because she wanted “to be part of something new.”
Walker said she believes the staff, many of whom are Millennials, are helping to create a vibrant atmosphere aboard the trains and in the stations.
“There’s energy everywhere,” Walker said. “Since training began, there hasn’t been a dull day.”
But even with the launch of service just hours away, Brightline officials on Friday were focused on the future.
The project’s successful launch — and performance in the coming years — could have implications for passenger rail nationwide, Edens said in an interview with USA TODAY.
To be economically viable, the railroad must capture 2% of the approximately 100 million annual trips between Miami and Orlando, according to Edens.
The private-equity investor and co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks said he’s confident Brightline will deliver.
“The service offering and the convenience and the expense of it are so compelling that 2% seems like a good risk,” Edens said.