WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - The company building a passenger rail line between Miami and Orlando showed off its first train this week, a sleek and comfortable setup that will travel at up to 125 mph.
Brightline gave tours of the two-engine, four-car setup at its West Palm Beach maintenance yard. Test runs between West Palm Beach and Miami are expected to begin soon with passenger service between those points, with a stop in Fort Lauderdale, scheduled to begin this summer.
The $2.5 billion line is expected to expand to Orlando by 2019 with possible plans to extend it to Tampa in the 2020s.
The privately financed company, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, is a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries. The company will soon employ 300 people and will expand to 400 when the Orlando line is complete.
Brightline President Mike Reininger estimates the line will eventually carry 5 million passengers annually, primarily tourists and business travelers. He said he believes the line can be a success where other passenger service has failed because it hits the "sweet spot" - the 250-mile trip between Miami and Orlando will take about three hours, making it faster than driving and more convenient than flying when the airport commute and check-in are considered. Although company officials won't discuss specific prices, they say it will cost less than a plane trip, which is about $100 each way.
"This will be ideal for somebody who is coming into this state, maybe doesn't have a car," he said. He pointed to Amtrak's Acela line in the Northeast corridor and lines in Europe as examples of passenger rail systems that are profitable.
The line has been criticized by some cities between West Palm Beach and Orlando as a noisy intrusion that will block their streets while providing no economic benefit to them. Martin and Indian River counties have sued in federal court, challenging the company's $1.75 billion bond sale to finance construction. Reininger said the company has worked to alleviate those concerns.
The train presented Wednesday, manufactured by Siemens USA in Sacramento, California, features two 4,000-horse power engines - one at each end. They are powered by diesel-electric motors that the company says are nonpolluting, emitting water vapor and nitrogen as exhaust.
Between the engines are three economy and one business-class cars. They feature wider and more comfortable seats than most airlines and 39 inches of legroom. The typical plane has 29 to 32 inches in coach. The bathrooms are about three times the size of an airplane's and have automated sinks and toilets. The cars have Wi-Fi and each train will have a cellphone area where passengers will be encouraged to take their mobile conversations. Food and drinks will be sold.
The company plans to expand to 10 seven-car setups, each carrying 356 passengers.