Meeting: Tonight - Tuesday October 24th, 7pm (central), Online
Wheels on Steel:
I took Florida's Brightline train from Miami to Orlando. I had a great experience, but I wouldn't pay for it again.
Up in the Air:
Andy Byford Interview with the WiHST Group
On October 16th the Wisconsin High-Speed Transportation Group held a virtual meeting with Andy Byford, Senior Vice-President of High-Speed Rail Programs at Amtrak. Mr. Byford is responsible for developing and implementing Amtrak's long-term strategy for high-speed rail. Most importantly, Mr. Byford is leading the agreement with Amtrak and Texas Central Railways to help resurrect and fund that project.
Analysis of Brightline's Inauguration of Miami to Orlando Service
It took over 11 years, but on September 22nd, passengers could finally travel from Miami up to Orlando on the nation's first privately owned passenger intercity railway. Now will it be successful?
How Brightline Began:
Brightline began back in 2012 when a group of investors, led by Wes Edens and Randy Nardone, read the book Last Train to Paradise by Les Standiford. This book was an account of Henry Flagler and the rise and fall of the Key West Railroad; affectionately known as “The Railroad that Crossed an Ocean”. The business model of Henry Flagler was to buy cheap real estate in Florida, and then build luxurious hotels and then build railroads to serve those hotels. Henry Flagler would then make money both on the moving passengers and freight, hotel guests, and real estate value appreciation. Since Wes Edens and Randy Nardone owned the descendant of the Key West Railroad (East Coast Railroad) they decided in 2009 they would try and recreate the business model. That is when they decided to apply and were granted $1.6 billion in loans under the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Act. This was the beginning of Brightline today.
Success from a Political Standpoint:
Fast forward to today, and on October 17th, 2023, Pete Buttigieg made a photo op and rode a Brightline train. This photo op is important for two reasons. First, it is an endorsement of Biden’s Administration of investment in passenger rail. This endorsement goes back to the original 2012 federal loan that made Brightline possible. More recently, Buttigieg’s appearance likely sent a message that the Biden Administration wants to invest in public/private partnerships to build high-speed rail in the United States. Hopefully, this means the Biden Administration is considering investment in passenger rail beyond Amtrak. Of course, the safety rate of Brightline trains with road crossings has come up, but Amtrak has the same issues too. Of course, when the media talks about Brightline’s safety record they forget about the 42,795 individuals that died in car accidents in 2022.
Success from an Economic Standpoint:
Calculating if Brightline is going to be successful financially is going to be tricky. Using a random day of Tuesday, November 14th (seached on Oct 15th), a one-way ticket price on Brightline from Miami to Orlando is $79 for Smart Class or $149 for Premium no matter the time. According to Kayak.com, Delta Airlines has a $49 fare in the evening, with most fares being $89 throughout the day from Miami to Orlando on American Airlines. Driving a personal or rental vehicle would cost $52.29 (224 miles, 24.5mpg at $3.50 per gallon + $19.72 in tolls). All these modes take around 3 hours 30 minutes (a flight is 1 hour 2 minutes…but 3 hours when including a two-hour arrival at Miami Airport). Of course, if time was not an issue, Amtrak offers tickets as low as $39 one way, and Greyhound offers $27 tickets (both take nearly 6 hours). So Brightline is not the cheapest nor the fastest. What Brightline offers is the newest form of transportation and less hassle than other transportation options. However, is that enough to make it successful?
So, it will be interesting to see how Brightline does with ridership. It is still too early to tell. Since Brightline costs more but does not offer a faster service than driving, I don’t see leisure travelers choosing Brightline. However, with the Brightline lounges and first-class compartments, it appears Brightline is trying to cater to the business customer. The question is the size of the market for business travelers from Miami to Orlando. Of course, there are two big variables. First, Brightline may just adjust its pricing to match market demands. After all, Brightline is creating a new market between Miami and Orlando and is just learning what prices to charge. Second, and more importantly, is the real estate investment around Miami Central Station. After all the real estate developers are owners of Brightline, and if Brightline is not successful the real estate will also be unsuccessful. However, even if Brightline lowers fares and loses money, then real estate values increase.
So, it is wait and see with Brightline. The company is getting good press and the positive feedback they need. We will just have to sit and watch about the political and economic success of Brightline and see if a new era in passenger rail has begun.
Back to the Future Day, October 21st...The Time Traveling Train
October 21st was Back to the Future Day. This day marks the day in the 1990 movie where Doc and Marty (and Marty's girlfriend Jennifer) travel from 1985 to October 21st, 2015. Yes we are long past that day and still don'e have flying cars, hoverboards, or even self-drying jackets in 2023.
However, after Marty and Doc's visit in 2015, in Back to the Future III they go back to 1885, where the fictitious town of Hill Valley is a railroad boom town. Then the Delorean time machine is modified to run on railroad tracks. Doc stays behind in 1885, while Marty returns to Hill Valley in 1985. Back to the Future III then ends with Delorean being smashed to pieces by a train after it arrives back in 1985. Then, just at the end, Doc and his family appear with his modified time-traveling train...When Marty asks Doc if he is headed to the future...Doc says, "Nope, Already Been There."
Did you know that there is a whole book based on the time-traveling train and what happened to Doc Brown after Marty left him in 1885 (and before Doc Brown arrived back in 1985)? It is called Tales from the Train and is a chronicle of Doc Brown's travel to the year 2038 aboard the steam power train that we saw at the end of Back to the Future III.
For more details:
The Faster Badger is produced by students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help break through the misconceptions of high-speed rail and high-speed transportation. This blog is for educational purposes only and all opinions presented are of the students.