Start with Daniel Hicks, at Medium, looking for the boost to high speed rail operation.
“All Aboard Florida capitalized on assets they already had,” said Andy Kunz, president of the U.S. High-Speed Association in Washington, D.C. “They owned the tracks, unlike California and Texas that face the challenge of acquiring land that covers hundreds of miles.”That is, if California's bullet trains ever get built.
So while it will be another 15 years before California completes its high-speed rail system, Brightline in the meantime promises to improve mass transit throughout Florida, reduce passenger car traffic between Orlando and Miami as well as provide a more sustainable alternative to road travel.
And with the private sector backing it, Kunz said that Brightline shows that high-speed, passenger rail systems do not have to become a money pit for the public sector. As a backdrop, the U.S. Congress is currently debating a significant boost to infrastructure spending.
The role of the private sector is something Passenger Rail advocates are still getting used to.
A well-designed [transit oriented development] empowers people with a choice to walk, cycle, or use public transportation to meet their daily needs. In other words, [it] is an urban development response to the congestion, carbon emissions, and inefficiency of suburban sprawl.It might be more to the point to note that development-oriented transit is emergent, and that the Japanese rail network in part reflects railway companies that are part of real estate development interests. I continue to wonder what sort of connectivity will emerge among Brightline, the Miami area Commuter Rail authority, and the city bus operators. That generalizes, though: there's little connectivity among the state-supported Amtrak corridor services at the Chicago hub, let alone between Amtrak trains and the suburban trains, and I will likely see Valhalla before I see any sort of a rail pass good on all U.S. trains.
“The car promise didn’t deliver,” said Kunz. “The history of urban development is compact, walkable and clustered around transit stations. Even the early suburbs were walkable. But in the 1950s, we started to orient everything around cars. Cars disperse people. Everything becomes separated. We have hit the limits of traffic congestion through commuting and highway expansion.”
As an example for Miami, Kunz pointed to the Japanese, who perfected a network of high-speed trains that drop off thousands of people at a time at local stops across the country. This has led to high-density, urban development and tremendous value creation around each station.
The good news is, there is a new train service, and it appears to be catching on. Robbyn Ackner, also a Medium correspondent, likes what she sees.
Traffic in South Florida is awful. Living in Palm Beach County gives us the opportunity to be on the outskirts of the horrible traffic, while being within driving distance of so many different cities and attractions. We are about an hour to Ft. Lauderdale Airport, Hollywood and the Broward County Beaches. We’re 90 minutes to our favorite hotel in South Beach. Two hours from Naples and 2 ½ hours to Orlando. Ten minutes from Worth Avenue, one of the Worlds Most Expensive streets. Last year, #GoBrightline started running between West Palm Beach and Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale. We’ve enjoyed hopping on the train and going down there for the day, or to enjoy dinner and even go to the convention center. It’s so nice not having to deal with traffic, especially after enjoying a night out. Yesterday, Brightline began running to Miami and we were lucky enough to get one of the last tickets available for their inaugural ride.On train, it's nice. Outside the window, though, well, the purpose of the railroad is to serve industry, and "other side of the tracks" is an expression for a reason.
Along the way, you get to see a side of road that you don’t typically see, and it’s not a pretty sight. Litter is scattered everywhere, it’s like people use the side of the railroad tracks as a dumping ground. Sadly, there is a very large homeless population anywhere you see an area that is under cover, mostly highway overpasses. I wonder if the rail system has considered those homeless people as an untapped resource who can keep the rails free of debris and then they might no longer be homeless!Hobo jungles have long been a thing. While it is the case that a hobo is someone who will work for food, railway maintenance labor is one of the harder things a man or woman can do, particularly one out of shape. But railroad awareness is emergent, and here's a postulant, mostly liking what she sees.
All in all we’re quite happy with the Brightline Train and look forward to many happy rides. Unfortunately, it’s not without issues, there have been several people who have lost their lives on the tracks, most thinking they can duck under the arms and beat the train as they cross the track. This is a high speed train, it’s only got 4 cars, it is so not worth losing your life over waiting for maybe 30 seconds.Dyson isn't going to like that. The crossing protection, though. Mr Hicks devotes three paragraphs to it.
My only complaint … they’ve got these really weird hand washing/drying system in the restrooms that not only sprays water, but blasts you with air and while it is supposed to only dry your hands (I assume) the blowback as the high speed air hits the edge of the sink is like a wind tunnel and it blows whatever water might be in the sink, or soap still on your hands onto you, your clothes and if you’re short like me, in your face. That kind of sucked. Hint …. use the sink in the handicap stall.
Quiet zones, which were part of an original agreement between All Aboard Florida and the municipalities lining the train route, are finally going into effect this month, starting in West Palm Beach. The zones are welcome relief for Rose, his guests and many other residents who have prayed for silence since the beginning of the year, when the zones were supposed to coincide with the start of the Brightline service.It gets better. The state is that grand fiction, you know, and the highway lobby wants to live at the expense of the railroads, even where crossing protection is concerned.
All Aboard Florida paid for the zone upgrades at close to 200 intersections along its route. They have extra gates, lights, bells as well as raised medians and curbs. It was then left to each individual city to cover the cost of waivers needed from the federal government. Earlier this year, Brightline sent employees to key intersections after multiple deaths were reported along its route.
“It’s a world of difference,” said [West Palm innkeeper Rick] Rose, joking about what locals commonly refer to as the “Palm Beach Pause”, that brief moment of silence between constant jet noise or train blast. “Fifty trains a day times 26 crossings, times four train-horn blasts per crossing… that’s more than 5,000 blasts a day of up to 100 decibels per blast. Today we had none. I can finally sleep at night.”
Does passenger rail qualify as a surface transportation project? Former Rep. John Mica and nine current members of Congress say, “Of course it does.”As if spending more money on roads is going to do anything about road congestion in southeastern Florida.
The answer seems self-evident, but five Republican congressmen, led by Rep. Brian Mast, argue that “surface transportation” only means roads. Mast’s district encompasses the so-called “Treasure Coast” north of West Palm Beach, Fla., through which Brightline’s Orlando-bound trains are set to run at 110 mph after Florida East Coast Railway tracks are upgraded.
The point is at issue because of attempts to deny Brightline access to private activity bond financing.
It gets better, though. Representative Mica is the notorious Amtrak hater, but he represents that part of South Florida where Brightline is catching on among his constituents.