As Thanksgiving approaches, millions of Americans are preparing for. AAA predicts that more than 55 million people will travel more than 50 miles, making this Thanksgiving the third busiest on record.
This year, a major development in travel options comes from Florida, where a new rail line connects Miami and Orlando. The service — the only privately owned multi-city rail line in the U.S. — launched less than two months ago and is already profitable and seeing ridership growth.
, which offers the new service, first launched in 2018 with service between Miami and West Palm Beach. Its trains, which can reach speeds of 125 miles per hour, saw a 116 percent increase in passengers this year. The projects to receive approximately 4.3 million passengers annually between South Florida and Orlando by 2025.
Jack Fernandez, who uses it every month between West Palm Beach and Miami, said he likes the convenience and efficiency of the trains.
“You can get work done. You can make phone calls. You don’t have to worry about the stress of accidents in front of you and the uncertainty,” Fernandez said.
Unlike costly and delayed public projects such as California’s high-speed rail, Brightline built its initial service between West Palm and Miami in just four years on an existing freight line.
Its second phase, connecting Miami and Orlando, runs along an expressway, which helped expedite permitting and construction. The railroad would eventually extend to Tampa.
With amenities such as in-seat food and high-quality leather seats, the high-speed train offers a competitive alternative to road travel. Wes Edens, chairman of Brightline, said the Orlando-Miami route saves passengers between one and two hours on average.
Brightline now has a project ready to connect Los Angeles and Las Vegas, a $12 billion venture that could be operational in four years. Edens said train speeds will exceed 200 miles per hour.
“There’s no doubt that there are many, many corridors in the United States that fit that bill where you’re going to save people a significant amount of time,” he said.
He said that with the Vegas project, the company is in the “paying for it” part and is “very optimistic” that it will be “in a good place” on that front by the end of the year.
Transit experts point out that high-speed rail, successful in Europe and Asia, can be effective at connecting cities 150 to 400 miles apart, but will require significant public funding.
Theallocated $66 billion to railroads.
“We put our money where our mouth is, but when private enterprise can play a big role in that, then those taxpayer dollars go a lot further,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who tried Brightline last month.
While the fastest trains in the US still lag behind those in Europe, they move about 100,000 people daily between Washington, New York and Boston.
Amtrak has a long-term plan that calls for adding higher-speed corridors across the country by 2035.
“The traveling public really needs to see how promising rail is before they get excited about additional markets,” said Roger Harris, president of Amtrak.
“It’s not just about the distance. It’s really about the congestion because people don’t want to be frustrated while they’re sitting in their car,” Harris said.