It’s been a busy few months for Brightline, the Florida-based rail company currently operating high-speed trains between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
Two new stations — in Aventura and Boca Raton — opened their doors in December 2022, and the company continues to run test trains ahead of the anticipated launch of long-awaited service to Orlando International Airport (MCO) later this year. One of those trains even hit 130 mph along the newly constructed tracks in Central Florida.
Today, it was an entirely different aspect of Brightline’s operations that took center stage, as the company welcomed several members of the media to get a peek inside its new $100 million maintenance facility on the grounds of MCO.
Dubbed “Basecamp” (as a reference to the staging area of many high-altitude mountaineering expeditions), the state-of-the-art complex spans 62 acres and features a number of buildings with a whopping 135,000 square feet of space to perform all kinds of repairs and routine servicing of Brightline’s vehicles.
Basecamp was built in partnership with the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, as the facility is on airport property. Departing jets flew directly overhead throughout the morning festivities.
Incredibly, it was only four years ago that the plot of land was covered by a swamp, with chest-high water in some spots. You’d never know that was the case today.
Two full train sets — including front and rear locomotives and four passenger cars (Brightline’s standard operating configuration, as of today) — were on display in the massive main building. However, the trains can expand to as many as 10 coaches, and company representatives indicated that these sets will grow as ridership increases along the busy corridor.
Brightline currently features two classes on its trains: Smart and Premium. The latter includes lounge access at stations and complimentary food and drinks on board.
I can tell you, though, from my own experience walking through the cars that both are quite spacious and comfortable. Every passenger enjoys complimentary Wi-Fi and power outlets at each seat.
Back outside the train, we got a chance to check out the impressive parts warehouse just off the main building. Occupying 11,000 square feet, the space features air conditioning for more sensitive material, along with a “wheel true” machine that functions as a lathe to address wear and tear on the wheels.
Just outside the main doors sits a dual-train fueling system and a train wash facility. Even though we weren’t able to see the cleaning process in action, the company recently launched a video that details how it works.
Perhaps the coolest aspect of the facility is the pair of undercarriage pits, both of which allow technicians to climb beneath the wheel wells to service everything on the underside of the vehicles. This will happen for up to eight trains a day once service to Orlando launches.
Of course, the timeline question took center stage during introductory remarks by Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline Trains. While he couldn’t commit to a specific date, a local reporter pressed him on whether Q2 or summer still seemed feasible, and he indicated that was “in the ballpark.”
That said, he and fellow Brightline reps were quick to note that tests were ongoing to comply with regulatory requirements, and they wouldn’t pressure the team to complete them more quickly. If any issues are found, the launch date could shift. Safety, they reiterated, is the top priority — and not only related to the new section of tracks.
Since they first took to the rails in 2017, Brightline trains have been involved in at least 88 deaths, according to a recent news article from the Associated Press. None of the deaths were the company’s fault — the majority involved suicide, along with pedestrians or vehicles ignoring downed crossing gates and warning lights. However, Brightline continues to invest millions of dollars into safety along Florida’s east coast.
The company also launched a website devoted to the topic. There, you’ll find a safety pledge for customers — with the goal of reaching 50,000 signatures.
Company reps were mum on additional expansion plans beyond Orlando as they remain focused on the final steps to launch service to MCO. However, Brightline’s website indicated Tampa as a future expansion spot. Additionally, a search of the Brevard County Property Appraiser indicates that “Brightline Trains Florida, LLC” currently owns a little more than 70 acres of land in Cocoa near the intersection of U.S. Highway 1 and state Road 528.
This spot is particularly interesting, as it happens to be where trains will slow down before turning west en route to Orlando — and it’s also just a short drive to Port Canaveral, which was the world’s busiest cruise port in 2022.
For now, though, it appears that Brightline’s ubiquitous black-and-yellow trains are on track to pull into the brand-new station in Terminal C at MCO in a matter of months.
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