April 20, 2024

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Private Brightline rail in Florida cuts its ridership forecast

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Private Brightline rail in Florida cuts its ridership forecast

Three months after Florida’s private intercity passenger train system, Brightline, disclosed a 21% decline in projected ridership for 2024, it’s cutting its forecast again. 

The Fortress Investment Group-backed Brightline now anticipates carrying a combined 4.9 million passengers this year on its new long-distance service between Miami and the Orlando airport and the five-year-old South Florida commuter line between West Palm Beach and Miami. Service to Orlando began in September, behind an initial target for a January 2023 opening.

The forecast was trimmed by another 600,000 from Brightline’s forecast of 5.5 million in December after an updated study of ridership and revenue.

Passengers board a Brightline train in Miami on Feb. 1.

Bloomberg News

Projections for when the new rail service will be fully ramped up — 2026 for trips between Miami and Orlando — were unchanged, according to bond documents amended earlier this month. 

Supporters favoring an expansion of the reach of high-speed trains in the US are watching the project closely.

The company expects to reach its projection of 8 million passengers in 2026, even under a more conservative forecast of 4 million riders this year, according to an offering memorandum for a $770 million bond remarketing this week.

“We are seeing strong adoption and rapid growth in our business since the opening of our Orlando service, and our projections for the stabilized operation remain unchanged,” Ben Porritt, a Brightline spokesman, said in an email.

Brightline expects to take delivery of 10 new passenger coaches in mid-2024 and another 10 in later 2024 or 2025, according to bond documents.

Brightline continues to announce new stations for its intercity service. On March 4, the company announced it would open a new station in Stuart, Florida, 40 miles north of West Palm Beach. Stuart is on Florida’s “Treasure Coast,” a region that includes Port St. Lucie and Vero Beach. 

Brightline has also begun planning a station in Brevard County, home to Cape Canaveral and John F Kennedy Space Center.

The rail service carried about 2.1 million passengers in 2023. January ridership grew 51% to 236,263 from the same month last year.