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Brightline considering other routes outside Florida!

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In addition to the routes they mentioned in the article, they should consider running service on Ohio's 3C corridor, as it would fit the distance and population criteria they mentioned in that article perfectly. This route would've been very popular had KaSICK not rejected funding for it. This would essentially give the stalled proposal the second chance it deserves.

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I think the problem there is relstive market size.

 

That being said, depending on the cost situation I wonder if somr form of SEHSR might not drift onto their radar if they go for CLT-ATL. CHI-MSP is a bit long, but I suspect there are some other segments that they might angle for out of CHI.

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Maybe this could be a scenario: If Fortress or Soft bank, whoever they call themselves, upon realizing the success of Brightline, invested considerable funds to buy a controlling interest in, say, CSX, this could open up a world of possibilities as to what routes to initiate service on. The only caveat is does Amtrak have a statutory monopoly on intercity passenger rail service?

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Unless they drastically change their business model I'd look for short to medium length corridors with potential ridership that can support say 10 round trips per day at least and that has significant real estate opportunities at or close to the potential station locations. Anything else for now is beyond fantasy. I highly doubt they will get into the one/two round trips a day long distance market with their current business model.

 

BTW, the ownership chain goes Softbank - Fortress Group - FECI - AAF/Brightline. AFAIK the company is still AAF. Brightline is a DBA.

 

The other relevant ownership chain is Grupo Mexico - FECR.

 

And finally Florida Dispatching Company (FDC) is equally jointly owned by FECR and AAF, and is responsible for dispatching FECR and AAF rail routes.

 

Incidentally, FDC is another aspect of the business model to keep in mind. AAF will probably be reluctant to operate its service on a route where it does not have any dispatching control at all.

 

Taking all this together suggests to me that doing anything outside Florida is probably many years away, and is merely aspirational at present.

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I was at the FECRS Annual Convention this weekend. Patrick Goddard, President and COO of Brightline was one of the keynote speakers. The other one was Nate Asplund, CEO of FEC Railroad.

 

I picked up a few definitive pieces of information from Patrick:

  • A couple of additional stations will be discussed publicly after service starts to Orlando
  • Construction of Phase II will begin in right earnest late summer. There is already some not so visible work preparatory construction work going on. But things will become very visible by late summer.
  • The construction should take 30 to 36 months.
  • It looks like it is almost definite that after Orlando, the next route segment will be Tampa. JAX comes after that.
  • Apparently they are getting calls from various short/medium corridor area local government entities inquiring what it would take to to do some thing like Brightline in their area. They have had some deeper conversations in Texas and Georgia. That is what has been rumored elsewhere too.

I also had a chance to talk to the Operations Chief at Brightline and learned a few interesting bits of information:

  • When all track and crossovers construction is completed and full PTC is operational, they will meet the 1 hour goal between West Palm Beach and Miami. Currently the ATC system does not have a few additional speed codes that are necessary for optimal operations. They are coming in with E-ATC PTC system
  • They are starting to cut in PTC section by section starting next week. The trains are already fully fitted up for operating under PTC (E-ATC not the I-ETMS that other freight railroads are using)
  • They will have fully operational PTC by the deadline, possibly a quarter before it.
  • In full phase II deployment, they will have ten trains with ten cars each. Goddard was asked what the five other colors will be. He responded that they will probably stop referring to train sets by their color since finding ten distinctive colors may be a bit of a challenge. It also unnecessarily restricts flexibility of swapping cars from one set to another.

Interestingly Goddard's background is in hospitality. He claims that he laves running an efficient railroad to the railroad guys. He focuses on the customer experience.

Edited by jis

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Jis

 

What you reported pretty much confirms the GOAA presentation I linked to a few weeks ago. They will have financing in place for phase 2 by end of summer with main work to begin shortly thereafter.

 

Tampa will indeed be next as I have explained here and on other forums over the past few years. There is no way they can risk expanding to Jacksonville next before Tampa given the low level of travel trips between Jax and Central and S Florida vs Tampa. Again, refer to the 2006 Florida Passenger Rail Report. That is the "bible" that FECI/AAF is following. Tampa offers a magnitude order of greater opportunity in RE development versus Jacksonville. That is the whole reason for AAF in the first place, right? Just remember the obvious and the basic economics of what created AAF and you will have the path forward that AAF is following made clear...

 

Look at the April SFRTA board meeting agenda for a complete picture of when PTC will be rolled out. Maybe it has been speeded up. But full implementation is a long shot before next year as that also includes a PTC Safety Plan, which FECR has not even started! Me thinks they are being overly optimistic on this. Or not telling the whole truth of what full PTC certification means.

 

Phase 2 - 10 cars per train? Is this a new bit of info? Previous reports said 7 cars for all 10 trainsets. I had heard previously from AAF directly that no new colors would be added. There will be 2 trainsets in each of the existing colors.

 

Did anyone have the guts to ask if they already placed an order for the additional trainsets and cars? I am assuming they must have ordered them in the past 6 months in order to meet the 2021 deadline. The GOAA presentation I reported on last week stated that $200M has been spent on phase 2. Most of that should have gone for additional trainsets... just saying!

 

Edited to include GOAA presentation

Board_Presentation_20180516 (2).pdf

Edited by Brian_tampa

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As far as equipment, Tom Rutkowski is quoted in Trains Magazine as saying the extra cars will be 2 Smart, 2 Select, and some type of lounge/cafe. There is 9. I suppose they want to give themselves the flexibility to add an extra coach if there is demand.

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No indication at all. They really don’t know. I asked. They basically said we’ll start figuring the details after we get to Orlando.

 

They are realists. They will wait to see that the business plan actually works first.

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Jis,
Thanks for the updates.

 

The shift to ten-car trains at build-out is not a surprise to me. The math surrounding seven-car sets offering hourly service simply did not line up with the ridership projections. I seem to recall having heard that they were planning on seven-car sets with the option to add two more (for nine). My guess is that they'll add a sixth coach (sorry, Smart Service car). That being said, I'm a little bit surprised at the proportion of Select space to Smart space being suggested (three Select coaches and six Smart coaches). 3:1 or 4:1 seems to be more common (and on many Regionals, it's more like 7:1 or 8:1).

 

So, let's run the math (at those earlier projections):
-Three Select coaches (50 seats). 150 seats.
-Six Smart coaches (66 seats). 396 seats.

Total: 546 seats

Let's presume 16 daily round-trips on weekdays (250 days) and 14 daily round-trips on weekends/holidays (115 days). That is, for the record, 32 one-way trips and 28 one-way trips. That would give 6,126,120 seats per year. Per my earlier post, that gives load factors of 41.37%, 60.87%, and 47.91% on their 2020 projections. Compared with the earlier projections (which produced a rather hard-to-believe 91.22% load factor WPB-FLL) these numbers actually make sense.

As to the extra cars, I would be very surprised if they did not have an option for an extra ten cars (one per set) in their hip pocket.

 

===== ===== ===== ===== =====

I'm not surprised to hear that there's local/state government inquiries driving the chatter elsewhere. I'm guessing that, given the relevant costs, anything elsewhere will need to be some sort of PPP (albeit with Brightline likely setting down some conditions for stepping in, such as at least having shared control over dispatching and the ability to run "clock" service at a minimum). I can't quite guess at what the arrangement would look like legally, however.

Edited by Anderson

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I've heard that the biggest death knoll to a start up company is announcing expansion before establishing your core business. I'm just going to sit back an watch the Orlando-Miami effort boom.

 

If they want to consult with TCR on their plans and help them through the bureaucracy that's one thing. But get the current job done first.

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Here is a quick snap of the Brightline leadership team that came to the FECRS Annual Convention Keynote Dinner:

 

post-171-15288973241539.jpg

 

All young, enthusiastic and bubbling with energy and ideas ...

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At the announcement of appointment of new executives Goddard reiterated the use of the phrase "Florida and beyond". So it can be surmised that Brightline does have a long term strategy to explore beyond Florida.

 

https://www.globalrailnews.com/2018/06/13/brightline-looks-to-replicate-model-in-other-us-regions/

 

During his FECRS Keynote, he specifically said that Brightline will not be focusing on HSR but it will focus on higher speed and multi-frequency corridor service. I took that to mean that they will leave the more expensive HSR to others and will focus on exploiting the feeder market to such and other viable corridors.

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This may be in the realm of pure fantasy, but if influential members of Congress were to ask Brightline to take over the NEC from Amtrak, I wonder if they would consider it.

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This may be in the realm of pure fantasy, but if influential members of Congress were to ask Brightline to take over the NEC from Amtrak, I wonder if they would consider it.

If they do so with a few dozen billion dollars commitment. Sure :) Otherwise very unlikely since FECI has like zero real estate footprint and I doubt they'd want to deal with the other financial and operational baggage that comes with the NEC. Just IMHO of course.

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I don't think it's pure fantasy to have a private company take over an Amtrak route, but the NEC is the one that needs that help the least.

 

I do wonder if a model like Brightline, where the train is essentially a nice plus to transport people from one of their commercial ventures to the next, can work again for long-distance routes. Henry Flagler built up the east coast of Florida with that model, and I believe the train in Canada was essentially there to take people from one luxury hotel to another luxury hotel, all hotels owned by the railroad.

 

If Amtrak was interested in doing its job, this wouldn't even be a thought. But it's not--it seems more intent than ever on destroying itself--so perhaps a Brightline-type model could work elsewhere?

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This may be in the realm of pure fantasy, but if influential members of Congress were to ask Brightline to take over the NEC from Amtrak, I wonder if they would consider it.

Why? The NEC is orders of magnitude larger and more expensive to operate than everything Brightline has done so far. Why would it make any sense to hand off operation of the largest and busiest corridor in the country to a company which has been operational for less than eight months?

Edited by cpotisch

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I don't think it's pure fantasy to have a private company take over an Amtrak route, but the NEC is the one that needs that help the least.

 

I do wonder if a model like Brightline, where the train is essentially a nice plus to transport people from one of their commercial ventures to the next, can work again for long-distance routes. Henry Flagler built up the east coast of Florida with that model, and I believe the train in Canada was essentially there to take people from one luxury hotel to another luxury hotel, all hotels owned by the railroad.

 

If Amtrak was interested in doing its job, this wouldn't even be a thought. But it's not--it seems more intent than ever on destroying itself--so perhaps a Brightline-type model could work elsewhere?

 

 

This may be in the realm of pure fantasy, but if influential members of Congress were to ask Brightline to take over the NEC from Amtrak, I wonder if they would consider it.

 

Brightline hasn't proven itself yet. Right now, it's just a fancy commuter service. We don't know if it will even make money -- or if it will operate successfully once it reaches Orlando. Let's do this one step at a time.

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Besides NEC's problems are fundamentally political, even before you get anywhere near operations. There is nothing other than the Northeast politicians who can solve those primary problems, should they develop enough of a desire to do so.

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Mike, I think you're absolutely right--Brightline is untested, and of course we need to give it time and see if it works and how effectively.

 

If it does, though, my feeling is that others could jump on board and start their own routes. Since everything is about profit, obviously it would be real estate/condos/stores, with the train to connect them.

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Mike, I think you're absolutely right--Brightline is untested, and of course we need to give it time and see if it works and how effectively.

 

If it does, though, my feeling is that others could jump on board and start their own routes. Since everything is about profit, obviously it would be real estate/condos/stores, with the train to connect them.

Lest we forget, that is what IRT supposedly did in New York way back when. Except that they were never in a position to directly monetize their impact like many of the Japanese private subway and regional systems did.

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While Brightline is untested as a profit center. (I personally think, if they continue as planned, they will be profitable. But that's just a guess at this point). They have already proven what is possible as a transit option in the USA. This is the first system built out like this in the USA. Modern stations, modern platforms, modern trains that travel at a continuously higher speed. While the ACELA doing 150 around Boston is great... it doesn't really matter if the Acela still has to do 35 in other places does it? When I rode Brightline we departed and ran at 70+ MPH the entire route.

 

This type of system would work in so many places throughout the USA. And I think giving both political leaders and the voting, general public a glimpse of what is possible could help get us more transit funded.

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