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Brightline restructures for further expansion; Tampa will be next
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Brightline's Blue trainset in Florida.
Bob Johnston
MIAMI — Executives responsible for Florida's Brightline passenger rail project say they're open to taking passenger services to other U.S. markets that could "benefit from the type of service" Brightline offers. Tampa, Fla., is a definite.

The news comes as Florida East Coast Industries executives announced that they've hired a former Madison Square Garden and New York Mets executive, Dave Howard, as Brightline CEO. His job is to get the FEC subsidiary ready to start Miami-West Palm Beach passenger operations this summer. Current Brightline President Mike Reininger moves to a new position as Executive Director at FECI to concentrate on constructing the line to Orlando International Airport.

In a Trains News Wire interview with both men, Reininger made it clear that the reason for the reorganization now is that the parent company intends to expand and replicate Brightline’s passenger rail blueprint to other markets, starting with the next segment from Orlando’s airport to Tampa, Fla., while “Dave can keep his hand on the wheel of the operating company.”

“Tampa is Florida’s next largest population center. For years we’ve had an expression of interest from leaders in that marketplace who are more than a little interested in a connection into our service,” Reininger says, “So we will be able to research and apply ourselves to that opportunity for sure. And [Florida East Coast Railway] already controls the right-of-way into Jacksonville, so we will start to explore whether that is a feasible and reasonable alternative.”

Federal 2009 stimulus funds for a Orlando to Tampa high speed rail project had been deemed “shovel ready” by the Obama Administration because transportation planners had provided room for tracks mostly in the median of Interstate 4, but Florida Gov. Rick Scott refused the money. In fact, a number of the operating railroad professionals hired by Brightline had worked for companies who were in the process of bidding on the proposed franchise when Scott pulled the plug.
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Florida East Coast Industries Executive Director Mike Reininger speaks at a Brightline open house at the railroad's West Palm Beach, Fla., shops in January 2017.
Bob Johnston
Reininger also didn’t rule out eventual expansion around the country.

“We don’t have any specific targets or notions about markets that Amtrak is serving,” he explains. “Our thesis is that there are major population centers 250 to 350 miles apart that are underserved or don’t have the capacity within their infrastructure systems to respond to (mobility) needs that could benefit from the type of service we are talking about, on a profitable basis as opposed to necessarily a subsidized basis.”

Regarding the possibility of adding intermediate stops north of West Palm Beach, Reininger stressed that Brightline’s first priority is to offer a three-hour travel time between Miami and Orlando, “but once we have the operations and infrastructure in place, there might be opportunities to provide service to markets that are significantly smaller than the ones we are going to open with. We want to do what any successful business does: find ways to grow our customer base.”
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Dave Howard, Brightline CEO
Brightline
Dave Howard and Brightline’s Patrick Goddard, who has been elevated to chief operating officer, both have extensive hospitality-oriented marketing experience.

“Much of what I have managed in sports and entertainment has direct application here, whether it’s selling tickets, training and recruitment, food and beverage, advertising, sponsorships, corporate partnership relationships — all those things I’ve overseen in a different context,” says Howard, “but there are close analogies to what we are doing here, and I’m very excited at this stage in my career to not only apply what I’ve learned but also learn about private railroad transportation.”

He joked that when Brightline’s offices at Miami Central Station are complete, he will just be a couple of escalator rides away from trains as he was working at Madison Square Garden over New York’s Penn Station.

Meanwhile, the second of five Brightline trainsets, “Bright Pink,” is now in transit from the Siemens’ Sacramento, Calif., factory to FEC rails at Jacksonville, Fla., via Union Pacific through the San Joaquin Valley in California, Tucson, Ariz., and El Paso, Tex., to New Orleans, La., then on CSX Transportation's route along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

For more on the trainsets Brightline plans to deploy, see pages 22-23 in the April issue of Trains Magazine.

See a behind-the-scenes video online.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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