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33 minutes to downtown — with leather, Wi-Fi and wine. Fido can ride, too.

Brightline brings new ways to beat traffic

Brightline launched its first train route from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, bringing new commuting options that the rail line said will alleviate traffic hassles for commuters.
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Brightline launched its first train route from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, bringing new commuting options that the rail line said will alleviate traffic hassles for commuters.

When the first paying customers of South Florida’s new express commuter rail service board Saturday, they’ll find sumptuous leather seats fitted with power outlets, free Wi-Fi fast enough for a Netflix stream, iced Starbucks ($4) — and bathrooms you can operate with the wave of your hand.

Government officials and media got a preview Friday as Brightline, the privately funded train line, finally made its first public run between downtown Fort Lauderdale and downtown West Palm Beach, a nonstop ride that took 33 minutes.

Hours later, the train struck and killed a woman pedestrian. Few details were available late Friday.

When regular service begins Saturday, South Floridians will hop aboard for $10 or $15 a pop. But those bargain fares may not last.

An executive for Brightline said during the tour that prices for the railway will be “dynamic” and subject to change on a “moment to moment” basis. Unlimited, monthly, weekly and weekend passes will also be offered, he said.

Initially, Brightline will offer 10 daily roundtrips on weekdays and nine on weekends, with service beginning as early as 6 a.m. and ending as late as 11 p.m. Pets and bicycles will be allowed.

Introductory rates will remain in place for at least the next six to eight weeks, giving the company time to evaluate travel patterns before determining regular prices. The fare change will coincide with the opening of the Miami Central station in downtown and the initiation of service between downtown Miami and downtown Fort Lauderdale.

“So ultimately it’ll be dynamically priced,” said Mike Reininger, the executive director of Brightline parent company Florida East Coast Industries and the former Brightline president. “It’ll be priced according to what the demand is across the time of the day or the time of the year. It can change moment to moment.”

About 100 invited guests gathered Friday inside the Fort Lauderdale Brightline station, a sleek two-story lounge equipped with touch-screen ticket kiosks, a VIP area and a small children’s play area.

Company executives and elected officials gushed over the prospects of connecting South Florida’s downtown areas with the new fleet of nonstop express trains. Each can seat about 240 passengers in its current configuration but can be expanded to seat almost 600 per train.

“This is phenomenal, and I’m just waiting until we can link our portion to it. We’re almost there but we still have a way to go,” said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida. “I think that it will help the traffic situation. … It will streamline travel distances and a lot of gridlock.”

Brightline covers a route similar to the cheaper but slower Tri-Rail system, which makes multiple stops in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — but not in city-center downtowns. The new Brightline system was hailed by most presenters as not just a transportation project, but a “transformation project.”

Biodegradable confetti littered the air as the four-car train prepared for its initial journey.

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Biodegradable confetti rains down on the crowd as Brightline debuted its intercity railway connecting Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach on Friday morning.

Reaching speeds of 79 mph, the diesel-electric train sounded its horn at every intersection as it zoomed north across county lines. Brightline will soon implement a “quiet zone” from downtown Miami to West Palm Beach — a stretch of more than 70 miles — in which train engineers will not be required to sound their horns at intersections, sparing homeowners along the train tracks headaches, Reininger said.

“I’m just really excited, very enthusiastic about how this is gonna transform South Florida,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, who rode on the train for the first time Friday.

Seiler said he’d happily pay higher rates to ride again.

“To me, whether the rates are $10, $15, $20, it may be a little higher than that, but to me it’s all about the convenience, the comfort and the efficiency,” he said. “I could see myself doing this on a regular basis.”

Detractors have voiced concerns about Brightline’s financial viability, which depends in part on tax-exempt bonds, and its safety in light of recent Amtrak derailments.

Service between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach originally was slated for launch last summer, with service linking downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale scheduled a few months later. The launch date for that leg has yet to be announced. Construction on the leg linking West Palm Beach to Orlando is expected to begin this year.

If you go

Brightline service between downtown Fort Lauderdale, Northwest Second Avenue, and downtown West Palm Beach, 501 Evernia Street, begins Saturday. Introductory fares start at $10.

Initially, Brightline will offer 10 daily roundtrips on weekdays and nine on weekends, with service beginning as early as 6 a.m. and ending as late as 11 p.m. Pets and bicycles will be allowed.

Information: gobrightline.com.

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