Traffic-clogged highways. Expensive gas and parking. Environmental concerns. There are so many reasons to forgo driving your car – or renting one – when you travel.
In the busy Central to South Florida corridor that encompasses sprawling theme parks, renowned beaches and major metropolises, a passenger-friendly train line is offering travelers car-free – or at least car-minimizing – options for seeing the region.
In a major milestone, Brightline unveiled its newest station at Orlando International Airport on April 20. Starting on September 22, 2023, travelers will be able to take fast, comfortable train service between Orlando, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, plus a few other cities in between. Brightline expects its non-stop train between Orlando and Miami to arrive in two hours and 59 minutes.
Trains start rolling eight times a day from Orlando to Miami. Service will eventually scale up to sixteen departures a day, though a timeline for this is to be determined.
Located in the airport's Terminal C, which is itself less than a year old, the train station offers a fast, direct connection between arriving flights and local trains -- a phenomenon that's common in Europe and Asia but is less pervasive in the United States. Brightline's offering in Orlando feels like an expanded version of its other Florida stations. It has sleekly designed seating across two lounges, a play area for kids and touch screens galore. A bar, cheekily named Mary Mary to commemorate the wives of turn-of-the-century rail magnate Henry Flagler, has neon, potted palms and a list of craft beers on tap.
Laying tracks for more US train service
Could this style of cheery, deftly-branded train travel become the norm in other parts of the US?
"I think what we've done in Florida with Brightline is we've established a blueprint for how this can be done," said Brightline president Patrick Goddard. "I think there are probably a dozen corridors around the US that fall into the category of heavily populated cities that are connected with congested highways that are too short to fly and too long to drive [between]. I think that getting this system online is going to show people what the value of a system like this is for their state, their community, their tourism industry and their business community."
For those looking to connect from Orlando's airport to the big-name attractions in the area, including Disney World and Universal Orlando, some kind of car connection is still necessary. But if you're sticking closer to the station, Brightline has some built-in options. If you've booked Brightline's Premium class of service, complementary Ubers will deliver passengers to stops within five miles of the station, free of charge. Smart class passengers – this is what Brightline calls its economy class – can also book Ubers from within the Brightline app for the typical fee, but without distance restrictions. The company has also worked to connect its stations with free electric shuttles and even bike shares to help passengers get where they need to go after they disembark.
Eventually, Brightline hopes to extend its service beyond Orlando International Airport to a stop much closer to the theme parks, which are about 17 miles away. A plan to link the train line directly to Disney Springs fell through in early 2022, but Brightline still hopes to bring stations to the area. Brightline service is expected to eventually reach Tampa, on Florida's Gulf Coast.
Better, faster, greener, cheaper
Beyond offering another way to get around Florida, Brightline also gives travelers a greener transportation solution. Brightline locomotives – two per train, so it never needs to "turn around" – are powered by biodiesel and electricity, and stations have electric car charging stations. In Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, you'll see "solar trees" that help power the train stations themselves, as well as provide shade and device charging.
Fares for Brightline vary based on demand, but a trip between West Palm Beach and Miami starts at $15 (Smart class) or $37 (Premium class) each way. Between Orlando to Miami, fares start at $79 each way (Smart class) or $149 (Premium class). For families of four traveling between Orlando and Miami, Brightline plans to roll out a ticket bundle for $199 each way.
Premium class includes access to an exclusive pre-departure lounge, larger seats, complimentary beverages and snacks, and priority boarding, among other perks.
Brightline's current connections offer plenty of easy exploring that doesn't require a rental car. In West Palm Beach, the Brightline station is situated adjacent to a walkable section of downtown that's dubbed The Square. Packed with bougainvillea-hung restaurant patios and public art, it's also home to tons of public programming. On any given day, you could stumble upon a yoga class, live jazz, or a cocktail-making demonstration. From here, hop on a free electric Circuit shuttle to the nearby Norton Museum of Art. You can catch the same shuttle back to the Brightline station, as well as to major hotels in the area.
In Miami, the Brightline station is a 10-minute rideshare to the Wynwood neighborhood. Known for its mural-covered facades and trendy shops, you can easily spend a day or two here. Book a tour to learn more about the mural artists, make a reservation at Michelin-recognized Doya, or simply lounge by the pool.