Brightline, the higher speed South Florida rail service, announced another delay Wednesday of the launch of its 170-mile extension to Orlando from West Palm Beach, and will again refund tickets, this time for rides scheduled for between Sept. 7-21.
“Thank you for booking tickets to be part of the initial rides between South Florida and Orlando — we’re close to identifying a start date, but we’ve added a few more days to our work schedule to complete the final stages of certification and testing,” the company told would-be riders in an email early Wednesday morning.
And so, “rides booked between Sept. 7-21 are canceled,” Brightline said.
A similar message appeared on the company’s social media account with “X,” formerly known as Twitter. The company’s online schedule now shows tickets may be purchased starting Sept. 22.
It was the second false start in less than a month after the Miami-based rail line announced the completion of its construction phase, which includes a new station at Orlando International Airport.
The railroad initially sold tickets in anticipation of a Sept. 1 launch on the front end of the Labor Day weekend. But management said the certification process could not be completed in time.
Refunds again will be paid in full, with credits arriving in customer accounts within three to five days, the notice said.
As before, the company is also gifting a complementary “premium” service voucher for future use, equivalent to the party size of your original purchase. And it is offering discounts through Avis, its rental car partner, should passengers still need to travel to the Orlando area on their original dates.
Lengthy certification process
Among other things, Brightline needs to obtain Federal Railway Administration approval for a so-called Pre-Revenue Service Safety Validation Plan, which the agency said is under review. Earlier this month, the agency said it anticipated announcing a decision on its approval “in the near future.”
The Florida East Coast Railway, which owns the tracks on the north-south portion of the Brightline extension, is not involved in the process.
According to the agency, there are multiple regulatory approvals necessary for an operation to start service that are addressed under different FRA regulations. They include a certification of Brightline’s positive train control system, which is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions and derailments caused by excessive speeds.
Brightline also needs to comply with regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, and various state or local codes/ordinances.
St. Lucie River bridge
Last week, Brightline and the FEC announced they were completing additional rehabilitation work on the St. Lucie River drawbridge in Stuart in advance of Brightline’s opening to Orlando.
The U.S. Coast Guard, which sets the operating timetable for raising and lowering the bridge, approved an FEC request for a temporary set of operating hours so the work can be completed.
“The scope of work includes replacement of timber ties and lift rails to improve operating speeds over the bridge,” the railroads said in a statement.
The bridge’s operation has been a flashpoint between the railroads and marine industry interests, with the latter group raising concerns over passage limitations once Brightline’s passenger trains start running.
But after discussions, the Coast Guard set a temporary timetable and operating procedures through mid-December as a test to ensure equitable access for the railroads and marine operators.
Among other things, Brightline and FEC installed a bridge app and website to serve as a guide to boaters. Brightline and the FEC also installed “variable message signs” on each side of the bridge, which are interconnected to the railroad’s signal system. The signs display a countdown to each bridge closure and opening.
Brightline recently constructed a bridge monitor house, and a tender is located on site between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day.