All Aboard’s Brightline train to begin tests on tracks this week

All Aboard Florida’s Brightline rail service will start testing its first passenger train this week along a 9-mile stretch of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks that runs from West Palm Beach to Lantana.

But a planned quiet zone to silence train horns along the route will not be in place before the company begins testing the 489-foot-long train and its on-board systems, Brightline officials said.

Officials with several Palm Beach County cities and towns have been working for more than two years to create a continuous quiet zone between 15th Street in West Palm Beach, near the repair yard where Brightline will initially house its fleet of trains, south to the Broward County line.

Leaders in Miami Dade and Broward counties are taking similar steps — a move that will ultimately allow the quiet zone to stretch roughly 70 miles from PortMiami to West Palm Beach.

Quiet zones require a higher level of safety at intersections where the road crosses the tracks because trains don’t blow their horns at those intersections.

Brightline plans to invest $60 million in a series of safety improvements at crossings on the FEC tracks from Miami to West Palm Beach. Transportation planners in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties have set aside more than $12 million to cover additional upgrades that are also needed for the quiet zone.

That work is still underway, but Brightline officials have said the zone will be in place before it launches its passenger service this summer.

Brightline said Friday that it will begin testing its “BrightBlue” train, moniker based on the blue strips down the side of its cars, mid-week. The testing will occur on a new set of rail track that runs between Park Place in West Palm Beach and Central Boulevard in Lantana.

Testing is expected to start in the morning and end in the early evening. The train is expected to stop periodically between intersections where the road crosses the track, but Brightline officials said they don’t expect the testing to cause any traffic delays.

The effort will include a series of tests required by the Federal Railroad Administration before passengers can ride in the train’s four cars.

On Wednesday, Brightline had stockpiled 45,000 pounds of sand at its rail repair facility. The company plans to use the sand, which is divided in 40-pound sandbags, to simulate the weight of passengers in the train’s seat.

Freight trains will continue operating along the Florida East Coast Railway line while Brightline testing is underway.

The company stressed Friday that safety is its top priority.

“Motorists and pedestrians should adhere to all safety rules and regulations while approaching at-grade railroad crossings,” Brightline said.

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.

More than 75 percent of construction on the buildings and the tracks that will mark the first phase of its route is complete, company officials have said.

Track work for the second phase of the project, which runs between West Palm Beach and Orlando, has not yet begun.

Meanwhile, Brightline plans to start hiring for dozens of jobs in the coming weeks. The company employees about 60 people currently, but plans to eventually have a staff of about 300, President Mike Reininger said Wednesday.

The company has yet to reveal its ticket prices, but Reininger said there would be a number of options including monthly and annual passes.

“You will be able to buy single tickets and packets of tickets,” Reininger said. “There will be different offerings at different price points. There will be passes — weekly, monthly, annual passes. We are working on the finalization of all that.”

Brightline is also putting the finishing touches on the system it will use to sell tickets, Reininger said. When the system is ready, which Reininger said would be “soon,” the company plans to release its ticket prices and first train schedule.

“The mobile application, the ticketing kiosks, the e-commerce platform that you will use, are also a pretty ground breaking thing,” Reininger said. “You will be able to go on there and select a seat for the train and review the different price offerings. If you are traveling with a pet, if you need to make a reservation for that. If you want special services associated with your luggage or your bike that you want to bring on board, all of that will happen in the communication with you either in your mobile app or on the e-commerce platform.”

Treasure Coast leaders continue to challenge the second phase of Brightline’s route between West Palm Beach and Orlando. Martin and Indian River counties 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 Brightline permission to sell the bonds, a move federal officials now argue makes the lawsuit filed by the two counties moot.

Instead, the federal transportation officials granted All Aboard provisional permission to move forward with a smaller, $600 million bond sale.

“I think as the reality of this stuff starts to come to fruition, and people again stop having to imagine it and start to see it, touch it and experience it, I think minds will be changed,” Reininger said of the opposition.

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