Comparing Brightline and Amtrak Ridership

The Brightline rail line in Florida has been an exciting rail project that I surprisingly have never posted about. It is a passenger rail line that operates between Miami and West Palm Beach, with plans to expand to Orlando and Tampa. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you might know it by its original name – All Aboard Florida – or the company that built it – Florida East Coast Railway. To make it more confusing, they recently received an investment from Richard Branson and will be rebranding as Virgin Trains USA.

1920px-Brightline_Trains_at_Workshop_b
Brightline train yard. Wikipedia.

What makes the line so interesting is that it is the first real private rail line to operate in the US in decades. Ok, there are some private trains that do leisure trips around a canyon at 20mph, but this rail line is designed for actual travel.

On weekdays, for example, there is a train every single hour leaving Miami, from 6:40am to 9:40pm, and then one last train at 11:10pm. Weekend service is a little more limited, but there are still 12 round-trips – a lot more service than say the Amtrak San Joaquin’s 7 daily trains, and just short of the Pacific Surfliner’s 13 trips.

Trains started rolling in January 2018, but didn’t start to serve Miami until May 2018, which is really the important launch. That means the train has been active for over a year, so how is it doing?

As a private company, investors are focused on ticket revenues, potential future growth, and the company’s real estate investments. I’m not an investor though, so I’m more curious as to how it stacks up in terms of transportation, and that means looking at bodies carried.

Lucky for me, there’s only one other organization running all-day intercity service: Amtrak. And even more fortunate, I just gathered up some Amtrak data!

Brightline July numbers are 83,741, and Amtrak recently released their August report, which allows us to calculate the July numbers. Here it is:

brightline ridership

Not bad! If Brightline was an Amtrak line, it would be the 9th busiest in the nation. The line also carries those people along a much shorter length than the other lines, and only serves 3 stations (although that will be changing).

Once Orlando comes online, I could see them competing with the Acela and Pacific Surfliner for 2nd place. That’s not the only ridership boost they’re expecting though. They plan on building a new train station that will tie into the cruise port, and with that, the new Virgin cruise line.

And remember, if you haven’t had a chance to visit Florida and ride this line, the same train sets are coming to California in the near future.

All photos from Wikipedia.

4 Replies to “Comparing Brightline and Amtrak Ridership”

  1. I might be a little drunk from going out, but I’m not sure
    I’m catching the correlation froM a rail line 2500 miles away.

  2. Just a quick comment about the planned Virgin Trains USA high-speed train between Las Vegas and Victorville.

    According to information in an NBC Los Angeles news report, the distance between the two locations is approximately 180 miles. The trip is expected to take 1.25 hours. That would put the train’s travel speed over that distance at 144 miles per hour, which suggests that the system will need to be electrified and probably on a par with electric trains operating on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor between Boston, MA and Washington, D.C. Average electric train speed over that line is about 80 mph.

    Launch of LV-Victorville service is expected to be in 2023.

    1. I’ve heard they’re looking at the same train sets being built for the Acela, which are good for up to 175mph I believe (but will run at 160mph max on the NEC).

  3. To add some perspective, look at the monthly number of rides the same month on BART, the subway system between San Francisco and the East Bay (https://www.bart.gov/about/reports/ridership). For the month of August 2019, the total number of entries and exits was 10,329,856. And this is, mind you, in an urban area that is still largely dependent on cars. The figures for ridership in on Amtrak trains and and Brightline for similarly sized (if not larger) urban areas just shows how much of a failure passenger rail has been in the United States, and this was prior to COVID-19. But does that mean we give up and say “yeah America is land of the SUV and pickup truck anyways, we don’t need trains!!.” ? Personally, after reading a lot of the Strong Towns literature (https://www.strongtowns.org/) and myself seeing the high prices and low accessibility of passenger rail in the US, I think the biggest problem that is stopping full adoption is that our cities are fundamentally flawed in their design, as they are overwhelmingly designed for cars. Even a city that is voted the most walkable in the United States, New York City, has narrow sidewalks and a large footprint taken up by cars, with very few pedestrian-only areas. For a supposedly high density city, the car ownership rates are still quite high, with only Manhattan having 22% of residents not owning cars, as per this one article (https://www.wideopenroads.com/car-ownership-rates-new-york-city/). So, if the most dense city in America that is literally on an island is still so car oriented, how can the rest of American cities suddenly change? I really think we should instead be focusing on making freight completely rail based and getting trucks off the road, as that would lead to dramatically less congestion and less emissions. Once this has happened, then we could maybe start to cut lanes on our major highways and maybe make more of urban areas pedestrian only, and then, finally, build high speed rail. Until we fundamentally redesign American cities, I just cannot see how any rail system can really help residents and not just be a “commuter rail” used by white collar workers who don’t want to sit in traffic.

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