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Full Brightline service starts Monday

Brightline Train at West Palm Beach station on Nov. 1, 2021
Posted at 2:37 PM, Nov 05, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — At the West Palm Beach Brightline station on Friday, Maria Rincon was glad the trip from Miami did not mean driving on Interstate 95.

"I missed Brightline a lot," Rincon said.

After nearly 20 months of halting service, Brightline is running again.

"We’re really excited to be returning to service," said Patrick Goddard, the president of Brightline, the privately-owned high-speed rail service that is trying to make an impact on travel between West Palm Beach and Miami.

Billed as top service travel, the trains are colorful, clean, and fast, and at a cost. On Nov. 8, fares between West Palm Beach and Miami will be between $15 and $37.

There are questions about Brightline’s profitability. Before the pandemic, Brightline appeared to fall short of passenger and revenue projections, and an apparent partnership with Virgin Rail fell apart and has led to a lawsuit. Now comes a restart for the train.

"We convinced a million people to take the train the first time around and I think it's one of those things that we want to encourage people to try it once," Goddard said.

Goddard said he expects Brightline to pick up where it left off. He claims 75% of riders who try it once return for a second trip. He’s also banking on a car service called Brightline Plus, designed to take passengers to final destinations.

"Train travel has always had this problem of first and last mile, how to get to the station and from the station to the final destination. We’re solving that now. With Brightline Plus, you’ll be able to book your trip door to door in our app," Goddard said.

"They’re well financed, well capitalized," said Jon Rossant, the founder and CEO of Co-Motion, a California organization focused on the future of transpiration.

Rossant admits Brightline has a big challenge ahead.

"It’s hard to get people out of their cars, get in the car and drive, that’s the American way," Rossant said.

Rossant said he’s waiting to see how Brightline does with its expansion connecting South Florida to Orlando, a more than $2.5 billion project that Goddard said should be ready by early 2023.

"Opening up Orlando will be very meaningful for high-speed rail in this country. It’s one of the reasons this project has become such a high-profile project nationally," Goddard said.

And then there is safety. Accidents involving Brightline trains and pedestrians and cars have been too frequent in South Florida.

Earlier this year, Indian River County reached a settlement with Brightline paying $30 million for crossing safety upgrades.

And Brightline’s president said they are now looking at red light cameras at crossings and using automated detection technology to try to slow trains down.