Facebook Page

National Railway Historical Society Convention Brightline Trip 9/3/2023

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I arose at 6:10 AM and at 6:30 AM we went down to the Spotted Stag for a breakfast of French Toast and bacon for me and Elizabeth had eggs, sausage and toast. She then opened the registration room as she was in charge of registration and I returned to the room and took care of my e-mail and other Internet sites. At 7:30, I joined the other NRHS members in the bus line, my ticket was taken and I boarded Bus One and our three buses were off to the West Palm Beach Brightline Running Repair Facility for a tour. We went through the gate and the sat on the bus for over an hour while we waited for a Brightline Team member arrive.

Brightline History

Brightline is a privately run inter-city rail route between Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida. Brightline began operating over its current route in January 2018 and the company is currently building an extension to the Orlando International Airport which is expected to enter service in 2023.

As of August 2020, it is the only privately-owned and operated inter-city passenger railroad in the United States. The line was developed starting in March 2012 as All Aboard Florida by Florida East Coast Industries, a Florida real estate developer owned by Fortress Investment Group. Construction began in November 2014 on stations and improvements to tracks owned by the Florida East Coast Railway, which at thestart of construction, was also owned by Fortress (it was sold in January 2018).

In late 2018, it was announced that Virgin Group would become a minority investor in the railroad and would provide rights to rebrand the service as Virgin Trains USA. In August 2020, they reverted to the Brightline name, ending the branding deal, claiming that Virgin had not provided the agreed investment money.


In 2012, Florida East Coast Industries announced plans to operate passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando. The construction was projected at the time to be $1.5 billion. In March 2013, All Aboard Florida applied for a $1.6 billion Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing loan, which was administered by the Federal Railroad Administration, and in late 2014, the company applied for a $1.75 billion private activity bond allocation, with proceeds from the bond sale substantially reducing or replacing entirely the amount of the RRIF loan request.

The company received a Finding of No Significant Impact from the Federal Railroad Administration in January 2013, effectively clearing way for work to begin between Miami and West Palm Beach. The Final Environmental Impact Statement was released on August 4, 2015. By the beginning of 2015, the company had started site work at the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach stations, plus right of way improvements along stretches of the corridor. On November 10, 2015, All Aboard Florida announced that the service would operate under the name Brightline.

Service between Miami and West Palm Beach began on May 19, 2018.

In November 2018, it was announced that Virgin Group would become a minority investor in the railroad and would provide rights to rebrand the service as Virgin Trains USA.

Two key counties on the coastal route north of the West Palm Beach station have, for various reasons, been fighting the extension of the rail line through Martin and Indian River Counties in court. One of their objections is that Brightline is owned by a private corporation, so they should not be allowed to issue tax-exempt bonds as if they were a municipality. On December 24, 2018, after four years of legal battles, a Federal District Judge threw out a suit by Indian River County that claimed the U.S. Department of Transportation improperly approved the bond allocation, clearing the way for construction of the new rail corridor through the Treasure Coast and Space Coast. On October 5, 2020, the US Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of that decision, ending Indian River County's efforts to stymie development. The County's efforts at a Supreme Court hearing were financed with over $200,000 in private donations in addition to over $4 million in County funds.

In April 2019, the company secured $1.75 billion in funding for the Orlando extension and said construction would begin right away.

In August 2020, railroad managers announced that Virgin had not provided the agreed investment money and the company would be ending its branding deal, returning to the previous Brightline brand. In March 2021, Virgin sued Brightline for $251.3 million because of the broken contract.

More Construction

Construction began on the Miami to West Palm Beach section with the laying of new tracks and closure of the temporary surface lots in Government Center, Downtown Miami, in mid 2014. Preliminary work on the Miami station, such as site preparation and demolition, began later in the year. Suffolk Construction was the general contractor for the Miami station. Piles were being set on the four lots of MiamiCentral in early 2015.

On October 29, 2014, work on the Fort Lauderdale station began with the demolition of existing buildings on the site. A groundbreaking ceremony for the West Palm Beach station was held in November 2014. Moss & Associates, of Fort Lauderdale, was the general contractor for the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale stations.

In January 2015, crews started replacing track throughout the corridor. All Aboard Florida secured leasing of easement rights alongside the Beachline from the Central Florida Expressway Authority for $1.4 million in December 2015.

Construction work on Phase 2, between West Palm Beach and Orlando, officially began in June 2019, with a groundbreaking ceremony at Orlando International Airport.Preliminary work on the corridor began in September 2019, in the area of Jensen Beach and Sebastian, and begin path clearing for construction of the Orlando-to-Cocoa portion in October of that year.

As of May 2019, the contractors on the project were the Hubbard Construction Company, Wharton-Smith Inc., The Middlesex Corporation, Granite, and HSR Constructors. These five contractors are responsible for the development of 170 miles of new track into the completed state-of-the-art intermodal facility located in the new South Terminal at the Orlando International Airport.


Public operations between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale began Saturday, January 13, 2018. Services between West Palm Beach and Miami began on May 19, 2018.Reopening is scheduled on November 8, 2021 after the Covid pandemic suspended the service for a year.

Effect of the COVID-19 pandemic

Brightline suspended operations on March 25, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All train services were completely closed, and the company cut 250 jobs. Construction north to Orlando continued, as well as plans for the upcoming station in Boca Raton.

In January 2021, the company stated that service would begin again in "late 2021," contrary to their earlier estimate of the third quarter of 2021. The company says that most station and operations staff will be brought back approximately 30 to 60 days before service resumes. Between January and May 2021, the trains ran with no passengers occasionally in order to test an upgraded corridor between the West Palm Beach and Miami stations. Service resumed on November 8, 2021 between West Palm Beach and Miami, with the Orlando line approximately 70 percent complete.

Rolling stock

All Aboard Florida ordered five Siemens trainsets in 2014. Each Brightline trainset initially consisted of four passenger coaches, with a Siemens Charger SCB-40 diesel-electric locomotive on each end. The coaches, with interiors designed by the LAB at Rockwell Group, feature ergonomic seating, Wi-Fi, level boarding and meet ADA compliance standards. Each trainset holds 248 passengers. Working with All Aboard Florida, the LAB also conceived the Brightline name, brand platform, and visual identity. The entire trainset, including passenger cars, were manufactured by Siemens in its solar-powered plant in Florin, California. Once the route to Orlando is in operation, the trainsets will be expanded to seven coaches, and five more complete trainsets will be purchased. The first of five trainsets departed the Siemens factory on December 8, 2016, and arrived in West Palm Beach on December 14. The fifth trainset arrived in South Florida in October 2017.

The trains offers two classes of service, with one "Select" coach and three "Smart" coaches on each trainset. "Select" offers 2x1 and four-to-a-table seating with 50 21-inch-wide seats per car and complimentary snacks and beverages, while the slightly less expensive "Smart" fare coaches seat 66 with narrower 19-inch-wide seats, with snacks and beverages available for purchase. Each trainset is able to hold 248 passengers.

Our Roundtrip

A picture while we waited. Once the Brightline employee arrived, we were allowed off the buses.

Brightline Service Green Train.

Brightline Charger SCB-40 diesel-electric 119 built by Siemens in 2021.

Brightline Green Train Preminum Service coach 1 built by Siemens in 2021.

Brightline Green Train coach 2 built by Siemens in 2021.

Brightline Green Train coach 3 built by Siemens in 2021.

Brightline Green Train coach 4 built by Siemens in 2021.

Brightline Service SCB-40 diesel-electric 108 built by Siemens in 2021.

Brightline Service Green train.

Brightline's current end points on the locomotive.

Brightline Service Yellow Train with SCB-40 diesel-electric 106 built by Siemens in 2021.

A look through the West Palm Beach Running Repair Facility.

The rear of Brightline locomotive 119.

One last view of Brightline Service Green Train before I returned to the bus. With fifteen, minutes everyone had returnd to the bus and we left for Brightline's West Palm Beach Station.

I photographed my first Florida East Coast train from the station after going through security. It was then time to board the train but one of the employees had mistakenly taken some passengers' tickets, so we did not know where to sit.

Brightline Service Yellow Train with SCB-40 114, built by Siemens in 2021. The train departed ontime and we were on our way to Miami.

The interior of the coach in which I was riding.

Overflow canal from Lake Okeechobee.

Crossing an un-named river in Coral Shores.

Making our way across the New River.

Crossing Little Arch Creek.

Traversing Little River after which we arrived at Miami Central station.

The Florida East Coast tracks to Miami Harbor. Everyone detrained and went upstairs to the lounge area where lunches were ready to be picked up. Elizabeth took everyone's lunch stubs and distributed the lunches, which were eaten while groups of 20 gathered to tour the Operations Centre. I ended up on the second tour.

The Brightline dispatcher's screen.

Four big screens overlooking the Operations Centre.

The Brightline dispatcher's computer screen.

The Florida East Coast big screen.

The top number is the rating of Brightline Service with the lower level being the Florida East Coast big screen.

The stations served and more of the lower level, the Florida East Coast big screen.

The Fort Lauderdale bascule bridge and the Miami Central station.

The Fort Lauderdale bascule bridge was about to rise.

Jennifer, the director of Brightline's Miami Operations Centre.

The bascule bridge was now all the way up and with that, our tour was over and the next group was ready. I had my lunch but since the sandwich included cheese, I could not eat it so had potato chips and the chocolate chip cookie.

The station time board. The southbound train arrived late so after their passengers all came down the escalator or stairs, everyone in our group went up to the train, and Elizabeth and I sat together. The train left a few minutes late.

There is plenty of construction underway in this part of Miami.

Crossing Little River.

A new station that was not here when we rode this in January 2022, Aventura, which opened on December 24.

The first Florida East Coast locomotives I have photographed, including 806.

Boca Raton is also a new station along this line, which opened on December 21, 2022.

Two passenger cars in Boca Raton, which I would see later on.

The Boca Raton Florida East Coast station.

Arriving back into West Palm Beach. I was the first one back to bus and soon we left.

The Seaboard Air Line West Palm Beach station.

Tri-Rail engine 811 at West Palm Beach Maintenance Facility.

The trip along the lake by West Palm Beach. We returned to the Double Tree Hotel where Robin and I waited for Doug Scott to return then we walked out to his car and drove to a lighthouse at Hillsboro Point.

Hillsboro Point was designated as hazardous for the safe navigation of ships in 1855 and federal designation was sought, with a request for a lighthouse at the inlet was first made in 1884. The request was repeated yearly and rejected 17 times. In 1901, the United States Lighthouse Board persuaded Congress to authorize the construction of a lighthouse in the dark area between Jupiter Inlet Light and Fowey Rocks Light. The official order approved on February 12, 1901, called for a "first-order light at or near Hillsboro a cost not to exceed $90,000." No appropriation of funds was made in 1901 and in 1902 $45,000 was appropriated. The full funding to build the lighthouse was appropriated on March 3, 1903. Initially a site on the south side of the inlet was selected, however it was not feasible, so a site on the north of the inlet was chosen. The owner of the property did not want to sell at first but after beginning condemnation proceedings, an agreement to purchase the land was reached. The 3 acre parcel was purchased for $150 from Elnathan T. Field and Mary W. Osborn of Middleton, New Jersey who had bought the land for 70 cents an acre from the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fun.

We then drove to Boca Raton to the station and railroad displays there after Elizabeth sent a text to Doug with the address.

Duquesne Slag Products 0-6-0T 12, nee American Bridge Company built by Baldwin in 1930. American Bridge was founded in 1900 by consolidation of twenty-eight of the largest steel fabricators in the United States. In 1902, it became a subsidiary of United States Steel as part of the Steel Trust consolidation. In 1943, 12 was sold to the dealer Birmingham Rail & Locomotive Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and then on to the Duquesne Slag Products Company, where it was renumbered 69 and was used to haul slag for concrete, ballast, road building materials, roofing and other industrial products.

It was donated to the Pennsylvania Railway Museum in Scranton in 1964 and some time later, was acquired by the Boca Raton Historical Society and Museum. It is on display at the historic Boca Raton Rail Depot on South Dixie Highway. The reasoning for it being numbered 767 is unknown to the author.

Atlantic Coast Line caboose 0771 built by the railroad in 1966.

Boca Raton Florida East Coast station built in 1930. Historically, the station served several long-distance trains and one or two local trains. Into the early 1960's, passengers could take one of two Chicago-bound trains (on alternating days), the City of Miami or the South Wind (both via Birmingham) and the New York City-bound East Coast Champion, Havana Special and Miamian from the FEC's station. Into the latter 1950's, passengers could take the Dixie Flagler to Chicago via Atlanta from the station. The FEC operated local passenger service between Jacksonville and the Miami area until July 31, 1968.

Seaboard Air Line dining car 6113 built by the Budd Company in 1947.

Seaboard Air Line 59 seat lounge-observation car 5843, later became 6603 "E. M. Lynn" then Amtrak 3343, built by Budd Company in 1947. In 1983, it was sold to the Boca Raton Historical Society.

Florida East Coast Boca Raton station historical information. We then another caboose in Deerfield Beach.

Seaboard Coast Line caboose 0896 built by the railroad. The three of us drove over to Jersey Mike's where I picked up dinner for Elizabeth and I and Doug and Robin bought their meals. We returned to the hotel and I delivered Elizabeth's dinner to her in the registertion room then went upstairs to eat mine and worked on most of this story before Elizabeth returned later in the evening, after which we called it a night.