MIAMI — The first Brightline train traveling from South Florida to Orlando rolled out Friday morning, completing a massive expansion project that cost the company $6 billion and took four years to complete.
The inaugural ride to central Florida departed Miami at 6:50 a.m.
It was scheduled to arrive in West Palm Beach at 7:45 a.m. and then depart for Orlando International Airport about 15 minutes later. However, a fatal Brightline train crash in Delray Beach delayed the route for more than an hour.
The train eventually left West Palm Beach at about 9 a.m. en route to Orlando.
WATCH: Brightline train departs West Palm Beach for Orlando
Once it arrived, a cheering crowd welcomed the train with confetti and fanfare. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer even presented Brightline a key to the city.
Before the celebration, elected officials from Boca Raton to the Treasure Coast came together at the Brightline station in West Palm Beach to commemorate the inaugural trip.
West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James even announced the boarding call for the first train, and other elected officials praised the train's potential economic impact across South Florida.
"This is huge, in terms of what I represent, which is a tourism industry," Jorge Pesquera, the president and CEO of Discover the Palm Beaches, said. "Tourism destinations are successful because of the access they have from airlines and car availability. This is a unique project in the country that is providing us connectivity to the No. 1 vacation destination in the country."
Valerie Neilsen, executive director of the Palm Beach County Transportation Planning Agency, also said the service could change the face of transportation beyond just our state.
"Here in the southeast Florida region, we're expecting to grow by another million people in the next 25 years, so being able to travel in other ways, such as Brightline, really helps with congestion and efficiency and relieves the stress out of travel," Neilsen said.
The long-awaited service to Orlando broke ground in June 2019 with test runs starting in early 2022.
Construction involved laying 170 miles of new track and two million spikes and bolts, along with building the new Orlando station. There are now 235 miles of track between Miami and Orlando.
Is it cheaper for family of 4 to drive or take Brightline to Orlando?
Trips from Miami to Orlando will last about three and a half hours at speeds up to 125 mph. Travel from West Palm Beach to Orlando will take about two hours.
The new Orlando stop joins stations in Miami, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.
The Orlando station is a 40,000-square-foot facility located next to Terminal C at the city's international airport.
A one-way ticket between Miami and Orlando will start at $79 for adults and $39 for children. Premium seats will cost $149 and up. There will also be bundles available for families of four, starting at under $199.
Brightline's current schedule between Central and South Florida includes 16 daily round trips with hourly northbound and southbound departures.
SAFETY CONCERNS PERSIST
However, the latest expansion of Brightline service to Central Florida also comes with safety concerns. That includes deadly incidents involving Brightline trains.
The Associated Press analyzed federal data beginning in 2019, finding that Brightline trains have the highest death rate in the U.S., fatally striking 98 people since Miami-West Palm Beach operations began.
That's a rate of about one death for every 32,000 miles that its trains travel. However, none of the 98 deaths have been found to be Brightline's fault.
Still, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., has long been critical of the train, citing the concern he has in terms of cost.
"I think you're going to be paying more tax dollars to the Brightline entity," Mast said.
The congressman cited the St. Lucie River railroad bridge as a reason why, predicting the bridge will need to be replaced, which will be a roughly $200 million project.
"And to my understanding, 80% of that would be borne by taxpayers," Mast said.
Many residents on the Treasure Coast have kept a close watch on the expansion, which travels through the region without stopping.
Among their concerns is how service will impact the St. Lucie River railroad bridge.
The sound of passing trains in Stuart is being met with hesitation by some residents.
John Dial, a Stuart boater and owner of At the Helm Training Company, is among those voicing his displeasure.
"Everybody is against it, all the boaters, because it impedes your use of the waterway," Dial said.
For months, Dial and other boaters have expressed their concerns about how the Brightline expansion will impact their access along the St. Lucie River.
The amount of time the St. Lucie railroad bridge will be closed has been a contentious issue between Brightline, local leaders and the boating community.
The coast guard in August updated the schedule for the railroad bridge, so it will remain open except when a train is crossing or work is being done on the bridge.
"If the changes that are suggested and said that they're going to happen, happen, I think it'll be OK," Dial said.
However, Dial remains skeptical if everyone involved will stick to the schedule.
"If you've ever dealt with the government much or any big business like that, and they've got the cards in their hands," Dial said. "They're going to do what they want to do, and it really doesn't matter about me or anybody else."
Brightline said it worked with the Coast Guard in creating a schedule that works for those involved.
Stuart Mayor Troy McDonald has listened to the concerns and said the rail company has done a good job of addressing the issues.
"When we have brought issues to them regarding safety at intersections, they're listening to us," McDonald said. "They actually redesigned one intersection."
The mayor feels that since then, much of the community's concerns have been reduced.
"I think that everybody is going to work hard to make it work," McDonald said. "I think there may need to be adjustments from time to time but I think most importantly we're on the path, and we're working hard to get a new bridge."