Commuters and leisure travelers alike have demonstrated strong demand for Brightline’s hourly trains that now travel from Miami all the way to Orlando with stops in Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and our very own West Palm Beach.
During rush hour, a large portion of these riders are commuters, and the trains are regularly sold out. Commuters who can afford the trains appear drawn by the reliable travel times, speed unimpeded by congestion, as well as the luxe feelings of the service. Riders also benefit from stations that are in the urban core of their respective cities–particularly in Miami, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.
Brightline’s success at attracting people to car-free alternatives has demonstrated the desire for more capacity along the line for rush hour commuters, access to lower cost rides for more cost- conscious riders, and stops in more cities that wish they had a Brightline Station. In December, stations opened in Aventura and Boca Raton as first steps to satiate some of these demands. These stations were constructed thanks in part to resources provided by Miami-Dade County (Aventura) and the City of Boca Raton. Both governments were interested in additional tools to relieve their residents’ commute challenges.
Further expansion of the high speed service seems unlikely for most cities, as Brightline appears reluctant to lengthen journey time by adding more stops for the higher speed trains. While Brightline recently issued an RFP to select a site for its future Treasure Coast Station–that effort resulted from a requirement in a legal settlement between the counties and Brightline.
Even if a city cannot get a high speed train stop initially, is there still a possibility of connecting cities to the network that have Brightline tracks but no station? In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the answer is “yes.” The counties recognized that Brightline’s $6 billion investment in a high speed corridor can enable local entities to improve intercity travel at a discount. With Brightline’s tracks already built on a 110-year-old right of way, costs to provide commuter rail are reduced to purchasing station sites, building stations and adding tracks in some locations. The current plan expects commuter rail to be operational by 2028 between Miami and Fort Lauderdale with a total of 10 stations along the existing Brightline / FEC corridor, with trains operated on behalf of and fares set by the counties. Broward County has future plans to expand the system from Fort Lauderdale to Deerfield Beach.
This concept could mean three to four trains an hour for cities like West Palm Beach that already have Brightline, and two trains an hour for the commuter-only rail stops like Wynwood, Little Haiti, Hollywood and Pompano Beach–all at a price closer to Tri-Rail’s fares than Brightline’s.
When realized, the system can provide a massive expansion of affordable people-moving capacity located in the densest parts of South Florida’s coastal cities along the corridor. The rapid growth of stations could make the train useful for more trips among existing riders as well. Because convenience and price are primary factors that encourage people to consider public transit, this could be a game changer.
And for those people that live in places like Little Haiti or Pompano Beach and want to hitch a ride on Brightline to Orlando? Suddenly they’re connected as well, with a short commuter rail ride to the nearest combined Brightline/commuter rail station, wait as little as 15 minutes, and then take the Brightline. Never once will they have to add to the traffic on I-95 for this car-free trip.
FDOT has played a key role in support the project, committing up to $74 million to the Broward County section of the project, noting “the…corridor is an important part of a larger vision for regional commuter rail along the FEC with Miami-Dade County’s Northeast Corridor to the south and future planned expansion to the north within Broward County and into Palm Beach County.”
Implications for Palm Beach County?
Brightline has highlighted to investors a possible system that includes nine stations in Palm Beach County. In their documents, a Brightline-facilitated commuter rail system in Palm Beach County could connect:
- Palm Beach Gardens
- Lake Park, Riviera Beach
- West Palm Beach
- Lake Worth
- Boynton Beach
- Delray Beach
- Boca Raton.
The Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency (the county’s metropolitan planning organization) has supported ongoing study of these efforts.
The projects in Miami-Dade and Broward don’t come for free. They are funded through a combination of state and federal funds, along with a locally-approved sales tax. Miami-Dade County passed a ½ cent transportation measure in 2002, and Broward County passed a similar full cent measure in 2018.
Broward County’s commuter line is expected to go into operation ten years after passage of a revenue source. The local capital and operations funds are essentially required for the federal government to commit money. Palm Beach County does not have such a funding source at this time, which would require a public vote.
If commuter rail advocates realize their vision, the rail line that helped build South Florida 100 years ago will further connect the densest parts of many of our cities once again through a combination of commuter rail and Brightline high speed trains.