The privately funded high-speed railway Brightline understands it has to be persuaded to do so. Since the automobile transformed the once dominant train travel into an afterthought form of transportation for most Americans, the idea of getting around the United States quickly and comfortably by rail has seemed more of a dream. than a potential reality. The clumsy, accident prone and underinvested in the Amtrak system has not helped change that outlook.
In an attempt to persuade the average Joe Gas Tank that the train is a viable transportation alternative, Brightline is investing heavily in five new sets of wagons and locomotives that prioritize the passenger experience. “We’re trying to get people to think differently about driving a train,” says Mike Reinenger, CEO of Brightline., and a longtime developer who built projects in Florida for Disney and led the redevelopment of Denver’s Union Station. “The real goal here is to change the behavior of people,” he says.
Inspired by tracking trains around the world and researching design approaches used in hotels and airplanes, Brightline’s new trains offer spacious seating, easily accessible aisles, touchless bathrooms and technology on-board for fast internet connection and easy charging of devices.
The new trains have just rolled off the assembly line at Siemens Mobility’s North American manufacturing headquarters in Sacramento. The full cost of the train deal has not been made public, but based on the cost of a similar deal between Siemens and Amtrak, Brightline’s five new trains have likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars. They will soon embark on Brightline’s growth operations in South Florida. The first route is a 65-mile connection between Miami and West Palm Beach, which the company says has served more than 2 million passengers since operations began in January 2018. Services have been cut off during the pandemic, but Brightline aims to resume operations in November.
One of Fast business’Most innovative transport companies in 2020, Brightline is focused on reinventing high-speed rail in the United States by creating routes between destinations approximately 300 miles apart: “too far to drive, too short to fly”, says Reininger. The company has invested more than $ 4 billion to build the first iteration of this system in Florida. A 170-mile service extension is being built from West Palm Beach to the Orlando International Airport, bringing its total route to 235 miles. Construction of the extension is over 60% complete and the entire route is expected to be completed by the end of 2022. The company also plans to expand to the West Coast with a rail line connecting Las Vegas to the Los Angeles metro area. .
High-speed rail is far from a safe bet in the United States, with large-scale projects like the much-sought-after interstate system in California facing years of delays, budget spurts and lawsuits. A relative success is Amtrak’s Acela train in the dense northeast, connecting Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Amtrak, which is a publicly funded state entity, derives a significant portion of its revenue from this corridor, but few other routes under Amtrak’s broad jurisdiction have ridership levels or similar request. Thanks to government grants, Amtrak has continued to operate, and with longtime Amtrak pilot Joe Biden in the White House, there are plans to increase its budget.
Private rail systems, on the other hand, lack such a cheerleader or subsidy source, and few have managed to survive in the United States. When launched, Brightline was the first private passenger rail system to emerge in the United States in a century.
Brightline hopes to achieve profitability by placing trains in locations with high population density and where there is already an integrated model of intercity travel. As a privately funded company, Brightline’s future depends on its ability to sit down. That’s why the company has worked with Siemens for the past decade to refine the design of a train that it hopes will convince people to reconsider using the rails.
“We’ve thought of every little detail of the customer experience,” says Reininger. The company had a custom app designed to streamline the ticketing process and used hospitality research to inform the design of its seats and table tops, which include built-in cup holders seen on some planes and larger surfaces. to accommodate laptops commonly used during travel. . “We want to make sure that we are a top supplier from a global perspective,” says Reininger.
One of the most immediate things cyclists will notice are the wide, wheelchair-accessible aisles and seats, which are 39 inches wide, according to Michael Cahill, president of Siemens.
The focus on the passenger experience has led Brightline to rethink what it is like to be a passenger from the moment they arrive at the station. A small feature is that passengers only need to connect to Brightline’s Wi-Fi connection once, rather than connecting to a network in the station and then to a second network once on the train. . Each car will have 12 antennas to help maintain high internet speeds.
Other details of the wagons include touchless toilets, sinks and hand dryers in the bathrooms, as well as 110-volt and USB power outlets at each seat. At the train doors, space fillers automatically close the space between the edge of the train and the platform, prevent the types of injuries that inspired the London Underground system to advise passengers to ‘be careful of the gap’. Reininger says, “It’s a little thing that’s almost invisible but has a big impact on the nature of the train experience.
Each train consists of four passenger cars and two hybrid diesel-electric locomotives, and Cahill says their width makes them sturdy in the event of an accident. Locomotives and cars have large crumple zones at their ends to reduce the risk of injury to passengers and train drivers in the event of a collision.
Brightline hopes these new trains are just the start. The expansion of the route from Florida to Orlando will add 11 locomotives and 20 cars to Brightline’s fleet. Reininger hopes the level of design they have brought to the design of their new train will help spur innovation in the industry and convince more people to try train travel.
“In the United States, we don’t yet really have an industrial base of many suppliers, a lot of experience and a lot of activity around building high-speed passenger trains. At Brightline, we had to strive to be proof of concept, ”says Reininger. “I hope we help achieve wider acceleration of the high speed train in the United States”
With a current president and an ongoing infrastructure bill, there may be more resources to support this acceleration. And other companies are starting to follow. In Texas, a private passenger rail company hopes to link the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Houston. Construction on this project has yet to begin, and its CEO recently suggested that it likely won’t start for at least six months.
Brightline is a few steps ahead. But with a single route just beginning to connect Florida cities, private passenger rail transportation is still a nascent concept with an uncertain future.