March 18, 2024

Brightline — Trip Review by Gary Prophet


A Brightline Siemens Trainset at Aventura Station in South Florida (Credit Brightline Media Kit)

Brightline definitely has the customer service figured out and they do a great job with execution. On Monday, March 11, 2024, I took Brightline roundtrip from Orlando to Miami, then on the return I did a stopover for a few hours at Aventura. The purpose was to meet friends in Miami for lunch and relatives in Aventura, with return the same day. If Brightline did not exist, I would have driven.

It is about a 3.5-hour trip one-way between Orlando and Miami. Brightline used yield-demand pricing, as I purchased my ticket a week in advance. If I had purchased them a day in advance, the prices would have been about double. Brightline has 2 levels of service with coach seats (called “smart”) and business class with 2x1 seating (called “premium”). Each Brightline trainset is 3 smart cars and 1 premium car, with a Siemens diesel locomotive at each end. Two of the smart cars hold 66 passengers and the third holds 58 passengers, as that coach has an area for checked baggage. The premium coach has 49 seats which in 16 rows of 2x1 seats, plus one extra seat. As a train approaches a sold-out condition, the smart fares reach $ 199 with premium fares of $ 299 for the one-way and other times Orlando to Miami can be as low as $ 39 smart and $99 premium.

Fares for shorter distances are less, but all station segments are very pricy as the train approaches sold out. The peak ridership is early morning from Orlando and late afternoon from Miami. West Palm Beach also has a lot of passengers traveling south, so like the Empire Corridor, the trains get fuller as they approach Miami and gradually empty after they leave Miami with Aventura like the suburban stop of Croton-Harmon on the Empire Corridor. Each car has half the seats facing each way, but passenger select their seat at the time of reservations, so a week in advance, I was able to select all forward-facing seats for the 3 legs of my trip.

I drove from Tampa to Orlando and was already aware that parking at the Brightline terminal, which is connected to the Orlando Airport was a challenge and indeed from the time I arrived on Airport property until the time I entered the Brightline Station was 40 minutes. This was a disadvantage as many people expect getting the train station is easier than traveling to an airport, but not in this case, since train station is at a busy airport. I was aware of this and thus left an extra 90 minutes of time to account for the parking situation and airport traffic, especially since I was not familiar with the Airport area.

As you enter Brightline, you set your luggage on a table and it goes through a scan, and then all passengers walk through a device that scan you, I assume for weapons, similar to what Madison Square Garden does. This took about 15 seconds. Then, I scan my ticket for entry into the Premium Lounge, where all coffee, wine, beer, and snacks are free. Since I was about 50 minutes early for my train, only one passenger was in the lounge, more came as we approached train time. Every Brightline station has a dedicated area for Premium passengers, all with free coffee, tea, soda, beer, wine, and snacks. There is a lounge area for the smart (regular coach) passengers as well, but in this area, people must pay their food and drinks. This is a big difference from stations on the Empire Corridor.


Here on the right is a picture of the Premium Lounge, and on the left the lounge area for the Smart (regular coach) passengers.

Then, it was time to board at the train in Orlando, as all stations are high level platforms and all are 850 feet in length, so that is about 10 coach lengths, if anyone was wondering what Brightline is likely thinking of for a maximum train length in the future. Also, when you board, each door has a gap filler than comes out from the train when it stops, so that there is no gap. As people board, there is a nice place to place their baggage at the end of each coach. In the premium coach that I boarded in Orlando there is an area above the seats for small bags.

There are larger windows than an Amfleet coach, with shades that pull down to keep sun out of your eyes. There are 32-inch wide aisles to met accessibility requirments (wheelchairs) with the Premium seats being 21-inches wide, which is the same as an Amfleet 1 coach. There are pull down tray tables and each seat have electrical plugs and USB ports and all stations and all trains have free Wi-Fi, which worked perfectly and was very fast. Also, since you pick your seat, if a group is traveling together, they can often selected the four seats around a table.


As this photos above show, the area between the cars is much wider and with no gaps between coaches.


Luggage Rack and Premium Seating

Since I was in Premium, all food and drink, including alcohol are free, as here is what was provided to the passengers in premium, and if you wanted more coffee or another fruit cup, one just asks the coach attendant, as our Premium coach had an attendant just to provide us with whatever we wanted. He was friendly and eager to please and food was available starting from 10 minutes after we left Orlando until 10 minutes before we arrived Miami. The accessible restroom was all non-touch controls and was beautiful, as the two “wings” from the facet are to dry your hands.


Premium Meal and Restroom

On arrival at Miami Station, as the station is located right in the middle of downtown with the Maimi rail transit system less than a block away, lots of restaurants, office, and the Port of Miami is less than 2-miles away. There is the lounge for the Smart coach passengers at Miami. The premium lounge is only valid for premium passenger boarding trains, so since I was returning smart in a couple hours, I could not enter the Miami premium lounge. And each lounge area has its own restroom. Both Orlando and Miami stations also have small gift shops in the lounge area. The signs are great and very clear, such as which escalator to take to the correct track, when boarding in Miami. At the station entrance there was a security guy scanning bags.


Smart Lounge and Gift Shop


On the left, station security and luggage scanning, and on the right, the escalators up to the platforms.

So, now time to board my train from Miami, in Smart (coach) seating, these are the 32-inch aisles with 2 x 2 seating, as the seats are 19 inch wide, exactly the same of Metro-North and smaller seats than the new NJ Transit coaches. If people have a loud cell phone call, they can go to the back of the coach, as this area is across from the restroom and provides a place to sit and is where the garbage can is, please note how properly placed the garbage is, in a separate area from the passengers, as compared to the carboard boxes sitting next to the tables in Amtrak’s dining cars and lounge cars. Under that flat cushion of the seating across from the restroom there is a bunch of life saving equipment, including a ladder and various emergency items.


Smart seating and the small bench across from the restroom at the car end.


On the right, the menu for the smart coach seating, as a cart rolls through the coach, there is no lounge car nor lounge seating. On the left, please note that while this man is very thin, his jacket and leg are actually intruding on the seat next to him.

After my short trip from Miami to Aventura, I returned to Aventura a few hours later went to the Premium lounge, which had this beverage area and had snacks, candy, cookies on the other side, as Aventura’s lounge was much smaller than Orlando and Miami. I then boarded my train at Aventura and once again, I was in Premium class, which offered free beverages and snacks, whatever I wanted. Then, after departing West Palm Beach, they came through with boxed meals for all passengers in Premium coach.


To the left, the beverage area in the Premium lounge at Aventura Station, and to the right the meal in Premium served after West Palm Beach.

The seats do not recline at all, but instead the seats move forward about two inches. I found the seats, both Smart and Premium to be very uncomfortable and narrow, although there was plenty of legroom. The armrests in Premium were much better than the hard ones in Smart. The back of the seats and the base part was also very hard. While the back of the seat was uncomfortable, the “wings” on the top of the back of the seats were good to lean your head on. The seats in the station lounges were fantastic and in fact one passenger remarked to the crew, “I wish I could take this lounge seat with me on the train, as those train seats are not good.” Overall, the service level of the personnel on-board was fantastic. In fact, one person had forgotten her cell phone charger and a crew member quickly let her borrow a charger to use to charge her phone. The windows were clean and bathroom were fantastic and clean, as well as the lounges at each station, both for Smart and for Premium class of passengers.

At the start of my trip, as we left Orlando, our speed was 40mph, but as soon as we were off of the airport property, we accelerated directly to 125mph and stayed at that speed until the turn to the south at Cocoa, where speeds were then a range between 110mph and slowed to 90mph through some busy areas and slowed to 70mph over some bridges and through Stuart. From West Palm Beach south, it was 80mph most of the time, then slowing to 40mph as we were almost to Miami station. Every station stop was announced precisely 3 minutes before and then again 30 seconds before and we were at each station for 2 minutes.


Brightline Train on the 125 MPH segment between Cocoa and Orlando (Credit: The Roaming Railfan via Brightline Media Kit)

During all 3 segments of my trip, every station stop was precisely on-time to the minute. The crew stated that if a train is 30 minutes late at a station, then every passenger receives “credit” toward a future trip. All fares are changeable, but none are refundable, so easy to change your train, but one cannot receive money back, just credit towards future travel. While talking to the guy next to me, he said that he has taken Brightline about fifty times, and once he was 15 minutes late, and then a couple times he was 5 to 10 minutes late.

In a discussion with the crew, they mentioned that they expected to have a fifth car for all trainsets by summer and a 6th car for all trainsets by next summer. The crew noted that sometimes 3 or 4 consecutive hourly departures will be sold out, often departing Miami in the afternoon, but it does not occur every day. They also stated that when there is an event at the Miami Arena (where the Miami Heat NBA team plays), which is walking distance to the Miami Brightline station, on those nights, Brightline adds a train to Orlando and another train just to West Palm Beach, both departing after the game, which is later than Brightline runs in the evenings.

Brightline has certainly figured out the customer service aspect of rail travel and every employee on all three of my travel segments was right on his/her game. With clear announcements, clean trains, friendly staff, on-time service, and great lounges, Brightline is providing a fantastic service and certainly introducing new people to trains.

Gary Prophet