I’ve got to hand it to the people at Brightline.
They’ve come up with a brilliant move: Simulated train service.
I can’t wait to be sitting at a Florida East Coast Railway train crossing in my car waiting for the big moment.
Will it be one of those soul-crushing, three-engine freight trains that go on for miles and sometimes slow to a crawl? Or will it be one of Brightline’s new, brightly colored commuter trains zooming by at 79 miles an hour?
It’s a great way to get the public to appreciate Brightline.
“Brightline: At least it’s not a freight train.”
It’s a motto that might work.
These Brightline passings will be happening about 20 times a day during this break-in period, as the company simulates what it would be like having a train that theoretically will be packed with real passengers between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.
And there we will be, the motoring public, waiting at the crossing and gawking at these gleaming behemoths of mass transportation zooming by without a single passenger aboard.
Normally, this might make some drivers upset, to have to wait at the tracks to allow the passing of a train that’s taking nobody to nowhere.
But while experiencing the relief that this isn’t one of those interminable freight trains, these drivers will also have an opportunity to get their first formative impression of Brightline’s trains in action.
Looking good on the outside. Looking empty on the inside.
And this simulation period will also give Brightline a chance to test the aerodynamic qualities of a train going 79 miles an hour without a bunch of people inside to weigh it down.
Important work. And perhaps even relevant once the simulation period ends and non-simulated riders don’t show up because they balk at paying a yet-to-be-released fare, probably because it’s going to be somewhat higher than the $5.65 Tri-Rail’s train is charging to take non-simulated commuters one-way between West Palm Beach and Fort Landerdale.
This may require an extended simulation period.
Maybe after a period of time running empty trains up and down the tracks, Brightline can transition to mannequins, and then finally darker tinted windows.
By then, we won’t even notice.
Or remember that the point of Brightline wasn’t to create three new South Florida train stations that function more as hubs for commercial and residential real estate developments in downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, than hubs of mass transit.
The point was to take people, mostly tourists, to and from the theme parks near Orlando to South Florida’s biggest cities. That’s where a lion share of the project’s fare revenue was supposed to come from.
Not from creating a more expensive, duplicate commuter rail service in South Florida.
We’re already subsidizing one of those.
As it stands now, the Brightline trains will be running just in South Florida until 2020, when the connection to Orlando is projected to be made.
Part of the reason it won’t be sooner is that 40 miles of track between Cocoa Beach and Orlando is missing and needs to be built. Brightline can’t even simulate train service to Orlando until there’s a track to run the empty trains on.
But at least for us, the drivers who venture near the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, we’ll be seeing Brightline in action this month.
OK, simulated action.