Florida’s Brightline higher-speed trains, shut down by COVID, will return in November

The passenger rail service, linked to an unusual number of deaths, suspended operations in March 2020. It’s planing to expand from South Florida to Orlando and, later, Tampa.

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A Brightline passenger train in Oakland Park, Fla., in November 2019.

A Brightline passenger train in Oakland Park, Fla., in November 2019.

Brynn Anderson / AP

Florida’s Brightline higher-speed passenger rail service plans to resume operating in November, 20 months after it closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, with safety measures its operators hope will curb a spate of fatal collisions that plagued its initial run.

The privately run Brightline — which began operations in 2017 and was the first new, private passenger train service in the United States in a century — will resume with hourly service between Miami and West Palm Beach, company president Patrick Goddard said.

Goddard said Brightline will require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and, following federal regulations, mandate masks for crew and passengers on trains and at stations.

The rail line will offer private and ride-share transportation to take passengers from their homes, offices and hotels to the station.

Brightline suspended operations in March 2020 but continued laying track for its planned expansion from South Florida to Orlando and that area’s theme parks. That route is set to open in late 2022 or early 2023.

Brightline then plans to open a line between Orlando and Tampa and also one between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. No opening date has been announced.

Goddard said Brightline is completing several projects to address safety issues that arose soon after its bright yellow trains began zipping through densely populated South Florida at speeds up to 79 miles an hour.

A 2019 Associated Press investigation documented that its trains killed more pedestrians and car drivers per mile than any railroad in the country. The 45 deaths prior to Brightline suspending service translates to one death for every 31,000 miles.

Most of the deaths have been by suicide. The rest were drivers and pedestrians trying to beat the train by going around guardrails or running across the tracks.

None of the fatalities was deemed to have been the fault of Brightline engineers or trains, but the crashes have had a psychological impact on crew members. Several have been involved in multiple fatalities.

Goddard said Brightline is installing infrared detectors to warn engineers if anyone is near the tracks so they can slow down or stop, adding fencing and landscaping to make track access more difficult and installing red-light cameras at crossings for police to ticket drivers who go around guardrails.

Brightline backed out of a partnership with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group last year that would have rebranded the company as Virgin Trains USA. No reason for the split was given. It came shortly after Virgin Atlantic airline filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States and announced a restructuring plan in the United Kingdom. Virgin has filed a $250 million lawsuit against Brightline in Britain.

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