All Aboard Florida’s Brightline will launch introductory passenger rail service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale the week of Jan. 8, Brightline officials said this week.
Federal officials said Friday that Brightline has met all the requirements and is an operating railroad, and it’s up to the company when it starts passenger service.
“Brightline continues to make progress toward operational readiness by training our teammates and testing our equipment,” Brightline said in a statement.
The company has not yet announced its schedule or ticket prices.
Brightline’s first phase will also include service to Miami. The private company has said it plans to begin construction of its second phase connecting West Palm Beach and Orlando in 2018.
Brightline leaders had expected to launch the South Florida route before the end of this year. Trains without passengers have been running along FEC tracks for a few weeks in what the rail line has called simulated service.
“Our goal is to launch the safest system and deliver an exceptional guest experience,” a company spokesperson said.
Brightline plans to run as many as 32 trains a day between Miami and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The company’s trains are expected to reach speeds of up to 79 mph between Miami and West Palm Beach, 110 mph between West Palm Beach and Cocoa; and 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando.
Federal Railroad Administration spokeswoman Desiree French said Friday that the agency does not issue operating permits to railroads, but does provide safety oversight through other means.
“All plans and necessary documentation have been submitted by All Aboard Florida throughout the construction and testing phases of the project and, as appropriate, approved by FRA. AAF is currently an operating railroad and so long as AAF complies with federal rail safety requirements, it can continue to run trains. Any final decision on when to launch passenger service will be made by the railroad,” French said in an email.
Opposition from residents along the route has centered on noise and safety.
State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, last week sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott expressing her concerns about the future of rail safety in Florida and asking him to support Senate Bill 572, High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act. She also asked the governor to have the Florida Department of Transportation use its regulatory authority over public railroad-highway grade crossings to reduce hazards.
Mayfield referred to the Dec. 18 derailment of the Amtrak Casades train in Washington state, where three people died and more than 70 people were injured.
“I strongly believe we must learn from the Amtrak Cascades tragedy to ensure a similar accident does not occur in the State of Florida,” Mayfield wrote.
A Brightline spokesperson said in a statement, “Positive train control, in addition to many other safety features, is paramount to Brightline’s infrastructure program. Brightline will fully comply with all federal regulations and have PTC operational when the system operates through the Treasure Coast. Patchwork state legislation is not needed to force compliance, as uniform federal regulations are already in place to ensure safety standards are met. It continues to be disappointing that the tragic accident in Washington is being used to further the goals of those who oppose privately funded passenger rail.”
FDOT spokesman Tom Yu said, “Safety is FDOT’s top priority and is at the forefront of all transportation projects in our state. We continue to work with state legislators, local officials, organizations and citizens to improve our state’s transportation infrastructure. We are in the process of reviewing Senator Mayfield’s letter and accompanying legislation. We appreciate her perspective and input as we continue to improve our transportation network for all Floridians and visitors.”