In recent months, more community leaders along the FEC line between Brevard and Miami-Dade counties have vocally discussed the benefits of having a station to service passenger trains in their communities. The Virgin Brightline which is currently serving as a higher-speed luxury brand whisking tourists and commuters from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale and Miami is in the process of being extended to Orlando.
Should more stations be added between West Palm Beach and Orlando as well as south of West Palm Beach (though this might well be taken care of by TriRail’s coming coastal link), the service may no longer be the higher-speed alternative to driving that is desired by many. However, it could become a bonafide high-end commuter rail that serves as an economic stimulus for both tourism and other local businesses.
While serving as a commuter rail isn’t the goal of Brightline, since Virgin’s investment was finalized, pricing, schedules and accessibility have become more friendly to the daily business traveler. However it can be argued serving as a way to move passengers in large numbers is the function of either Amtrak or Tri Rail’s coastal link? But Amtrak’s use of the traditional CSX lines have meant that they do not serve the east coast of Florida between Jacksonville and West Palm Beach. This remains one of the most highly-populated gaps in Amtrak’s system nationwide.
The absence of a major passenger rail on the east coast of Florida since the 1960’s as the area has experienced massive growth is making communities salivate over the possibility of stops that stimulate economic growth in each area. Amtrak has never seriously considered adding a line going south from Jacksonville to West Palm Beach even as the population of the state along the FEC line has continued to explode.
The FEC rail line as we discussed in recent episodes of The Florida History Podcast was the primary stimulus of growth between St Augustine and Miami in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Yet passenger rail disappeared completely from the old FEC route until 2018.
Locales such as Cocoa, Palm Beach Gardens, Boca Raton, Stuart and Port St Lucie have all been talked about as potential new station stops. As commuters from major northern cities can attest, neighborhoods near rail stations tend to see economic benefits from the number of day travelers that stop in the area.
Plans for the Tri Rail Coastal Link have been moving forward albeit at the usual slow bureaucratic pace that is expected in these circumstances. The coastal link would funnel passengers to Virgin’s MiamiCentral station where they can connect to Metrorail (via the Historic Overtown/Lyric Theater Station) or Metromover (via the Wilkie B. Ferguson station). The Coastal Link would possibly connect through new tracks to the current Tri Rail system and use the upgraded FEC tracks that the Virgin Brightline runs on from Jupiter to Virgin MiamiCentral.
However, further north of Jupiter should stations be added to the upgraded FEC line, would this defeat the purpose of a higher-speed rail system between southeastern Florida and Orlando? How would Virgin handle the scheduling? Would some trains be direct while others make calls at smaller stations along the route? Virgin’s experience operating rail lines in the United Kingdom demonstrate the company has shown this sort of flexibility in the past.
As Virgin’s plans and those of the Tri Rail Coastal Link continue to form, we’ll keep an eye out while continuing the conversation about the enhancement of rail travel in the state.