The country’s first private high-speed train is set to roll out this month in South Florida. The proposed route will connect Miami to Fort Lauderdale in half an hour, and Miami to West Palm Beach in just one hour. Train service this month will commence between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, with service expected to expand to Miami in early 2018. The second phase of the project will connect West Palm Beach and Orlando. Brightline is a $3 billion project that is owned and funded by All Aboard Florida, which is funding the project through tax-free bonds and by constructing mixed-use projects around the stations including retail, restaurants, and residential developments. In October, the Florida Development Finance Corporation (a special financing unit authorized to issue tax-exempt bonds to private entities) authorized the company to sell $600 million in tax-exempt bonds to help finance the first phase of the project (the West Palm Beach to Miami leg). All Aboard Florida has now raised the $600 million for these private-activity bonds.
The new rail line could take millions of cars off the roads, which could have a significant impact on relieving some of the notorious congestion in this heavily traveled corridor. Some are concerned that the development taking place along the corridor could increase housing prices, exacerbating an existing shortage of affordable housing in the region. Meanwhile, the state legislature is considering a bill regulating rail companies operating high-speed passenger trains (running over 80 mph), that were not operating prior to January 1, 2017, requiring the operators to install certain safety equipment, and to pay for and maintain rail crossings and fencing. The Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act also establishes certain reporting requirements and minimum safety standards. Proponents of the bill say that it is needed to regulate the high-speed trains that will be running through pedestrian communities. Brightline opposes the bill, stating that it has been unfairly targeted by this proposed legislation. SB 572 is available here.