Arbitrage and densification opportunities abundant as the only privately owned US Rail arrives in Miami.
After years of negotiation and planning, a privately owned high-speed rail company has connected Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, with plans to extend to Orlando and possibly Tampa. The service (which I test rode this past Sunday) was an exceptional experience and rivals some of the best rail lines in the world. From ticketing and customer service to the station and train design, each part of the experience was well thought out and simple to use. If the service and design remain forward thinking and friendly, customers will enjoy riding Brightline again and again, making it a viable option for continuous use.
The most important component of this new service is what it means for South Florida. The strategic aspect of Brightline’s decision making is its operation along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, creating a train that truly cuts through urban centers and takes passengers from urban center to urban center. This allows the service to support the highest density of businesses and residences in each area, creating a spatial connection between these downtowns which are usually over an hour or more away from each other during traffic. A person could theoretically work in Downtown Miami, live in Downtown Ft. Lauderdale, and walk to work or vice versa. Other arbitrage opportunities exist, such as private education, airport travel, and sporting event attendance. These in addition to increasing cultural event attendance, food spending, and retail shopping across the region.
In Miami specifically, the arrival of Brightline helps to catalyze the revitalization of the most vacant area of Downtown. The area has long been the subject of large, multi-acre urban development plans such as Miami World Center and Miami Innovation Center, in addition to a number of luxury buildings along Museum Park and the A&E District. The neighborhood will take shape as more and more inter-city commuters see the benefits of Brightline as their mode of transportation. This will create a market for offices and residences by the station.
Brightline has also bet on this relationship and created a truly multi-use project with its Miami Central Station. Its 800 Parkline Living residential units are nearing completion, as its office towers are opening. Its retail space is slowly filling in as well. While this opportunity has been seen and planned in Miami, the area around the stations in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale have not yet been seen through. There is still great opportunity along these tracks.
In addition to the inter-city connections Brightline poses, an intra-city rail that is walkable is the next logical step. Tri-Rail has asked to operate on Brightline tracks, however, Brightline and Tri-Rail have not yet come to an agreement for this use. This would help to connect more points along the Urban train line, adding much more value to the Brightline route.
Brightline’s arrival provides an optimistic view on transit and connectivity in a rapidly changing and growing region. South Floridians (and soon Central Floridians) can look at it with a sense of pride, knowing that large institutional money and infrastructure is betting on this region to think and act progressively. Let us be sure to meet the challenge.