The downtown stop will give Palm Beach County residents easier access to the American Airlines Arena, where The Miami Heat play, Port Miami, and other nearby businesses and shopping districts, officials have said.
The station in downtown Miami could mark the beginning of the expansion of the current Tri-Rail system along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor, serving as the southernmost stop for Tri-Rail’s Coastal Link and
The Coastal Link project is planned to run through coastal downtowns from Miami to Jupiter.
All Aboard Florida’s first Brightline train began testing this afternoon along a 9-mile stretch of track just south of downtown West Palm Beach.
The company’s “BrightBlue” train, a moniker based on the blue strips down the side of its cars, started rolling through West Palm Beach around 3 p.m. — creeping slowing along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks as it paused at railroad intersections.
The effort will include a series of tests required by the Federal Railroad Administration before passengers can ride in the train’s four cars.
Brightline has stockpiled 45,000 pounds of sand at its rail repair facility. The company plans to use the sand, which is divided in 40-pound sandbags, to simulate the weight of passengers in the train’s seat.
A group of Treasure Coast lawmakers concerned over the safety of All Aboard Florida’s Brightline service filed bills on Tuesday aimed at regulating the company’s express-passenger trains and other high-speed rail ventures.
State Senator Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, along with Reps. MaryLynn Magar,R-Hobe Sound, Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, and Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, want to create statewide rules requiring rail operators to install and pay for safety upgrades.
Brightline President Mike Reininger said last week the company plans to deliver the “most technologically advanced train in America on what will be perhaps the safest rail operation in America.”
Brightline plans to run as many as 32 trains a day between Miami and Orlando. Between West Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach, the company’s trains are expected to reach speeds of up to 110 miles per hour.
“I find it quite astounding that Florida does not have any measures in place to address high-speed rail when there is a statewide project underway that will crisscross through my community, many others between Miami and Orlando, and potentially up Florida’s entire east coast,” Mayfield said in a statement released by her office. “I can tell you that to date I have not heard one thing from AAF about what they are going to do to ensure safety features are in place to protect the public around these fast-moving trains. This legislation is really designed to protect all Floridians from accidents and injuries at these dangerous railroad crossings across the state.”
The bill, dubbed the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act, would establish minimum safety standards for high-speed rail, including the installation Positive Train Control and Remote Health Monitoring safety technology.
Before launching high-speed service, train companies would also be required to make upgrades at intersections where the road crosses the train tracks.
The legislation would make high-speed rail companies responsible for the cost of all safety upgrades at railroad crossings.
Treasure Coast leaders continue to challenge the second phase of Brightline’s route between West Palm Beach and Orlando. Martin and Indian River counties have filed a federal lawsuit to block bonds that the company had planned to use to pay for the construction.
The U.S. Department of Transportation in November withdrew its 2014 approval granting Brightline permission to sell the bonds, a move federal officials now argue makes the lawsuit filed by the two counties moot.
Instead, the federal transportation officials granted All Aboard provisional permission to move forward with a smaller, $600 million bond sale.
When asked about the opposition last week, Brightline President Mike Reininger said “there is no such thing as a major infrastructure project in the history of the United States that doesn’t have some manner of people with a divergent point of view.”
“We have been very attentive to the things that people have said that are of concern,” Reininger said at a media event held last week to unveil the company’s first passenger train. “Things like the noise of the train, things like the safety of the grade crossings. And we have been very responsible in everything that we have done to (address) those issues and know that what we are delivering is the most technologically advanced train in America on what will be perhaps the safest rail operation in America as a result of the investments and the tangible things that we have done. We are very proud of that. We believe that really does address the things that people say they are concerned with.”
With trains set to start rolling this summer between West Palm Beach and Miami with a stop in Fort Lauderdale, journalists were given tours of two train cars, a locomotive and the Brightline maintenance facility just north of downtown West Palm.
Ticket prices are yet to be announced, but those who hope to hop aboard can expect to see various ticket packages to cater to customers’ needs, Brightline President Michael Reininger said. Travelers will be able to choose between two levels of car: the Smart Coach, which has four seats across per row with an aisle down the middle; and the Select Coach, which features wider seats, free snacks, alcoholic beverages, and two seats on one side of the aisle and one seat on the other, allowing for solo seating.
Here are a few features inside the trains for travelers to watch for:
WiFi: Each Brightline train car is equipped with free on-board WiFi. Brightline officials said with multiple antennas per train, the WiFi signal will be powerful enough to allow guests to stream TV shows and movies, or play online games.
Power: Each seat has access to multiple power outlets and USB ports. One seating configuration, which has four seats facing each other with a table in the middle, has outlets between each of the seats, with another set of outlets that pops up out of the table.
Touchless bathrooms: The bathrooms on the Brightline train are mostly touchless — you still have to grab the toilet paper yourself. Toilets flush with the wave of your hand, and the sink and soap also are motion-activated. For those who forget to flush, the toilet will do it for you when you open the door to exit.
Mind the gap: Each train car has “gap fillers” that bridge the gap between the car and the station platform. There’s about a three-inch difference in height between the two, Brightline said, so the gap filler will allow travelers in wheelchairs or with strollers or walkers to safely cross.
Pet-friendly trains: Brightline trains will have room for both large and small pets. Smaller critters will have to travel in carriers, which can be stowed under a seat or in the overhead luggage area. Pet owners also can make reservations for larger pets — but they’ll get their own larger carrier at the end of the train, near the luggage racks.
UPDATE, 3:45 p.m.: All Aboard Florida’s Brightline rail service unveiled the first train in its growing fleet on Wednesday, marking a new phase for the company as officials shift their attention from construction to customer service.
For more than three hours, Brightline’s top executives demonstrated dozens of features that they say will help convince South Florida residents and tourists to ditch their car and instead ride the train. The demonstrations were part of a private tour for members of the media.
Among the innovations: Plugs and USB jacks at every seat, free onboard WiFi and “Super wide” aisles that span 32-inches, wider than any other train. The extra room will allow passengers in wheelchairs and those with strollers to reach their seat with ease, the company said.
The train’s bathrooms are large and “touchless,” a feature that allows passengers to flush with a wave of their hand. The sinks include a Dyson faucet that both dispenses water and dries hands from the same fixture, helping to keep water from dripping on the floor.
The seats, which measure 21 inches and 19 inches wide depending on a passenger’s class of ticket, recline in place. The bottom cushion slides down and back, not the back of the chair — a feature that allows passengers to recline without invading the space of the person behind them.
Each car features a variety of seating options, including groups of four chairs centered around a table with built in charging stations.
The company is also one of the only in the industry to offer “level boarding.” Each train feature custom “gap fillers” to bridge the space between the passenger car and the platform, making it easier for riders board and disembark.
The mechanism will be especially helpful to people pushing strollers, pulling luggage or riding on wheelchairs, the company has said.
UPDATE, 2 p.m.: All Aboard Florida’s Brightline unveiled its first passenger train on Wednesday, marking new milestone for the private rail venture.
The company’s “Bright Blue” train was unveiled at a private event for media Wednesday morning.
Brightline plans to begin testing the train on a 9-mile stretch of track near its West Palm Beach repair facility next week.
Brightline President Michael Reininger said the company would soon be announcing its ticket prices, which will including daily, monthly and annual passes.
The event begins at 10:30 a.m. The Palm Beach Post will be streaming live video from the reveal on its Facebook page. For updates throughout the event follow reporters @JenSorentrue and @KristinaWebb on Twitter.
This post will also be updated throughout the morning.
The 489-foot-long train has been housed under a covered structure at the repair yard while crews work to finish construction on Brightline’s first phase, which spans from Miami to West Palm Beach.
Track work for the second phase of the project, which runs between West Palm Beach and Orlando, has not yet begun. Treasure Coast leaders are challenging that stretch of the project, and have filed a federal lawsuit to block bonds that the company had planned to use to pay for the construction.
All Aboard Florida’s Brightline rail service “has a much greater likelihood of success” than other passenger train ventures because the company has found a niche market where it can make money without taxpayer support, according a report written by Robert Poole, the South Florida-based transportation director for the Reason Foundation.
All Aboard’s project has come under fire from Treasure Coast residents and officials, who fear the added trains will block police officers and firefighters from reaching the ill or injured. Boaters have also raised concerns that the company’s trains will increase draw bridge closures over the Loxahatchee River and impede navigation.
Poole’s report addresses the opposition, saying opponents’ claims are “exaggerated and imbalanced.”
Poole notes that Florida East Coast Railway was running trains on the corridor long before there were homes in the area, and improvements at rail crossings “will mean higher average speeds and less gates-down time than today for a given train.” Planned “quiet zones” would limited noise from train horns, he added.
And if All Aboard’s project fails, Poole says its investors, not taxpayers who will be on the hook.
Poole’s 4-page report was published this week by the non-profit institute, which bills itself as a “free-market think tank.”
The utility-backed Amendment 1, which was turned down by voters this fall, would have made existing laws and regulations governing solar energy part of the state constitution, potentially paving the way for barriers to rooftop solar, opponents said. Its opponents said the measure’s wording was misleading, leading some voters to think it would be a way to advance solar energy in Florida.
Before the vote, an audio tape emerged that included comments by Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at the James Madison Institute. On the tape, first reported by the Miami Herald, Nuzzo described how to use a “little bit of political jiu-jitsu” in promoting solar to win support for desired changes in policy.
Critics of Amendment 1 called Nuzzo’s comments an admission of a “secret scheme by the pro-utility coalition to mislead the public,” about Amendment 1.
The political committee behind the amendment, Consumers for Smart Solar, said that Nuzzo “misspoke” and erased almost all references to the JamesMadisonInstitute on its social media platforms.
In a federal court documents filed Wednesday, attorneys for Martin and Indian River counties called a new financing plan for the rail project – made public as a result of the court case – a “scheme” and a “work around” to circumvent the legal challenge.
Martin and Indian River counties filed suit last year over the sale of $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds for the rail project, arguing that federal officials violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental policies when they approved the sale before an environmental study of Brightline’s second phase was complete.
The U.S. Department of Transportation last month withdrew its 2014 approval granting AllAboard Florida’s Brightline permission the bonds, a move federal officials now argue makes the lawsuit filed by the counties moot.
Instead, the federal transportation officials granted AllAboard provisional permission to move forward with a smaller, $600 million bond sale.
The original sale would have paid for the second phase of Brightline’s project, connecting West Palm Beach to Orlando.
The new sale will be limited to the rail venture’s first phase between Miami and West Palm Beach – where an environmental review has already been completed.
As a result of the financial change, federal transportation officials have asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
But before a decision is made on that request, Martin and Indian River counties say they should be allowed to review documents related to both bond sales.
In court filings, the counties point to a letter Sept. 30 letter from All Aboard President Michael Reininger to federal transportation officials.
In the letter, Reininger said the company planned to consider a second, $1.15 billion bond sale to help pay for rail work between West Palm Beach and Orlando.
“Within the next several weeks, we will separately discuss a new request for an allocation of up to $1.15 billion in (private activity bond) authority for Phase II,” Reininger wrote to federal transportation officials.
Wednesday’s filing also pointed to a series of email message between All Aboard and federal officials. The counties allege the emails show that All Aboard and federal transportation officials chose to communicate by phone or in person “in order to avoid written and discoverable substantive records of those communications.”
Brightline’s first passenger train has arrived in West Palm Beach.
The train is being stored at the company’s rail repair facility on 15th Street in West Palm Beach. The 12-acre site is located just west of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.
On Wednesday morning, the 489-foot-long train was housed under a covered structure at the repair yard, partially shielding it from public view. The covered structure will be used by workers to clean and maintain the company’s fleet.