As Brightline chugs full-speed-ahead toward a summer launch of its new South Florida train service, the company has named a sports and entertainment industry veteran as its new CEO.
The privately funded express inter-city passenger rail service announced Wednesday that former sports executive Dave Howard is taking over as CEO. He replaces Michael Reininger, who will move to the rail line’s parent company.
And while the South Florida service remains on track, Brightline’s extension to the Orlando airport likely won’t be completed in 2018, as previously announced.
After two decades as a senior executive with the New York Mets, Howard was named president of MSG Sports. Through the roles he worked in the development of a new sports facility for the Mets and the rebuilding and reopening of the legendary Madison Square Garden.
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“I’ve been very fortunate to have worked in some very high profile sports and entertainment businesses ... and I see a lot of similarities with this opportunity,” said Howard, who relocated from New York and started as CEO this week.
“I am amazed at the quality of the stations and the surrounding development and the train itself. That’s coupled with the opportunity to make this an experiential travel opportunity, where the train itself is an attraction. I see that for South Florida — when people are visiting South Florida they will think ‘you have to ride the Brightline,’” he said during an interview. “My mission is to come aboard and focus on the operations and ensure that the service and the experience is going to match the exceptional quality of the assets and the facilities.”
Reininger, who had been president since 2012, will lead new development and growth opportunities as executive director at Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), Brightline’s parent company. He said he will focus on completing the announced second phase from South Florida to Orlando, and will explore potential expansion elsewhere in Florida and beyond the state.
Brightline also announced that Patrick Goddard has been promoted to chief operating officer.
Brightline, a private subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, plans to begin service from the new MiamiCentral train station in downtown to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach late this summer. The company will announce a formal launch date and ticket prices in coming months, Reininger said.
The stations in Fort Lauderdale and Broward are nearly complete and the construction of the MiamiCentral station and rail work has also been moving quickly, the executives said. The station, along four full city blocks north of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, will feature escalators leading to a skylit concourse, train platforms elevated 50 feet above the streets and a marketplace of 20 restaurants and food stalls.
The timetable for Brightline’s second phase, with rail service from West Palm Beach to the Orlando airport, has not yet been finalized and Orlando service likely will not launch in 2018, Reininger said. He gave no new estimate.
Brightline showed off the first of its five train sets in January. Each Brightline train set features one Select coach, with wider seats, and three Smart coaches, all with drop-down task trays, large windows and complimentary Wi-Fi.
One train, BrightBlue, has been making runs on the test track, and BrightPink will begin testing soon. Three more trains will join the testing in coming months.
Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg