Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Rail Renaissance

In 2018, Brightline — the nation’s first privately financed passenger rail service in nearly four decades — debuted service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The Miami company opened stations in Aventura and Boca Raton last year and this summer will launch hourly departures between Miami and Orlando.

The Model

Passenger rail has never been much of a moneymaker in the U.S., but there are a few exceptions, such as Amtrak’s profitable Acela service, which runs between Washington, D.C., and New York and other northeast cities. It was routes like that and many of Europe’s inter-city rail systems, including the Eurostar train running between London and Paris, that convinced Wes Edens (co-founder of Brightline owner Fortress Investment Group) that hauling people could be profitable. The sweet spot, he says, is found in what he calls “city pairs”— large population centers a couple hundred miles apart that are too far to drive and too short to fly.

Riding High

Brightline served 179,576 riders in March 2023, up 68% from March 2022, and the jump in ridership (along with monthly pass price increases and increased revenue from parking and other ancillary services) helped Brightline turn its first monthly profit. “We didn’t really anticipate making money in South Florida. It was always designed as a kind of proof of concept, and it’s become so popular that it actually is now economically viable,” says Edens. The train is also serving as a catalyst for transit-oriented development, with more than two dozen developments sprouting up around Brightline’s Miami Central Station.

What’s Next

A route connecting Orlando to Tampa along the heavily trafficked I-4 corridor is in the works, and an extension to Jacksonville is likely within the next decade or so, Brightline officials say.