All Aboard Florida’s Brightline rail service unveiled the first train in its growing fleet on Wednesday, marking a new phase for the company as officials shift their attention from construction to customer service.
For more than three hours, Brightline’s top executives demonstrated dozens of features that they say will help convince South Florida residents, business travelers and tourists to ditch their cars and instead ride the train. The demonstrations were part of a private tour for members of the media.
Among the innovations: Plugs and USB jacks at every seat, free onboard WiFi and “Super wide” aisles that span 32-inches, wider than any other train. The extra room will allow passengers in wheelchairs and those with strollers to reach their seat with ease, the company said.
The train’s bathrooms are large and “touchless,” a feature that allows passengers to flush with a wave of their hand. The sinks include a Dyson faucet that both dispenses water and dries hands from the same fixture, helping to keep water from dripping on the floor.
The seats, which measure 21 inches and 19 inches wide depending on a passenger’s class of ticket, recline in place. The bottom cushion slides down and out, as opposed to back of the chair — a feature that allows passengers to recline without invading the space of the person behind them.
Train cars feature a variety of seating options, including groups of four chairs centered around a table with built in charging stations for families and business travelers.
Semi-permanent couplings connecting the train cars to each other and an air suspension system on the passenger coaches will help ensure a smooth ride, officials said.
The company is also one of the only in the industry to offer “level boarding.” Each train feature custom “gap fillers” to bridge the space between the passenger car and the platform, making it easier for riders board and disembark.
The mechanism will be especially helpful to people pushing strollers, pulling luggage or riding on wheelchairs, the company said.
“We here at Brightline are focused on reinventing what it means to travel by train in America,” Brightline President Mike Reininger said at Wednesday’s event.
The trains are among the most innovative in the world, Reininger said, adding that the company painstakingly weighed even the smallest items to help make the train more comfortable and convenient for riders.
“Every detail of our product has been designed from the guest’s perspective and targeted directly towards eliminating hassle and enhancing the overall travel experience,” Reininger said.
Brightline will sell two ticket classes — Select and Smart. In the first phase, each train will include three Smart coach cars and one Select coach car.
The Select cars feature larger seats and complimentary food and beverage service. Smart car travelers will be able to purchase food items, officials said.
Brightline plans to start shuttling passengers between West Palm Beach and Miami this summer — a trip that will take less than a hour.
The company has yet to reveal its ticket prices, but Reininger said there would be a number of options including monthly and annual passes.
The “BrightBlue” train, a moniker based on the blue strips down the side of it’s cars, arrived at the company’s rail repair yard in West Palm Beach last month.
The 489-foot-long train has been housed under a covered structure at the repair yard while crews work to finish construction on Brightline’s first phase, which spans from Miami to West Palm Beach.
The train has four rail cars and two locomotives and can seat 240 passengers.
Next week, Brightline will begin testing the train along a 9-mile section of the Florida East Coast Railway track that spans south from the repair facility on 15th Street in West Palm Beach.
Four more trains are being built at Siemens’ manufacturing hub in Sacramento, California. Those trains, each featuring a different hue, are expected to arrive in South Florida in the coming months.
Roughly 75 percent of construction on the buildings and the tracks that will mark its route is complete, Reininger said.
Track work for the second phase of the project, which runs between West Palm Beach and Orlando, has not yet begun.
Treasure Coast leaders are challenging that stretch of the project, and have filed a federal lawsuit to block bonds that the company had planned to use to pay for the construction.
The U.S. Department of Transportation in November withdrew its 2014 approval granting AllAboard Florida’s Brightline permission to sell the bonds, a move federal officials now argue makes the lawsuit filed by the Martin and Indian River counties moot.
Instead, the federal transportation officials granted AllAboard provisional permission to move forward with a smaller, $600 million bond sale.
“We are continuing to look for the exact right moment in the marketplace,” Reininger said. “When the time is really right and the market opportunity is just right, we will go back into the capital markets and get that transaction done.”
Reininger said officials are “incredibly focused” on the project’s first leg.
“That is job one right now,” Reninger said. “But immediately thereafter or along the way to some degree we are continuing some of the efforts that are important with respect to the second phase.”
Construction on the Orlando station is advancing and Brightline officials continue to pursue permits needed to complete track work through on the second phase.
Reininger said it would take about 2 years from the time construction begins for the company to complete the West Palm Beach-to-Orlando leg.