Published: July 8, 2023
By: Adam Burns
Florida, known for its sunny beaches, vibrant cities, and tourist attractions, is also home to a diverse range of passenger trains including intercity, regional, and commuter in nature.
These services offer an efficient and convenient mode of transportation for both residents and visitors, connecting major cities, tourist destinations, and key regions across the state.
This article provides a brief look at the current services available in Florida, highlighting their routes, features, and contributions to the state's transportation network.
One of the prominent passenger train services in Florida is Brightline, a private intercity rail system operated by Brightline Trains LLC. Currently, Brightline operates two routes:
Miami to West Palm Beach: This route covers approximately 70 miles and connects downtown Miami to West Palm Beach, with intermediate stops in Fort Lauderdale and Miami International Airport. Brightline offers a high-speed and comfortable travel experience, featuring amenities like free Wi-Fi, power outlets, food and beverage services, and spacious seating.
West Palm Beach to Orlando: Under construction and expected to be operational in the near future, this route will extend Brightline's service from West Palm Beach to Orlando, spanning around 170 miles. The expansion will enhance connectivity between South Florida and Central Florida, providing a convenient transportation option for tourists and residents alike.
Amtrak, the national passenger rail service in the United States, operates several routes that serve Florida. These routes include:
Amtrak's Silver Star and Silver Meteor connect Florida to major cities in the Northeast and Southeast regions of the country. The Silver Star runs between New York City and Miami, while the Silver Meteor connects Miami to New York City via cities like Jacksonville, Savannah, and Washington, D.C.
Together, these trains are known as the Silver Service. Both trains have quite a history as part of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad's popular fleet of southern streamliners during the classic era of rail travel when no expense was spared to make sure passengers thoroughly enjoyed their trip.
As the trains served the sub-tropical regions of the U.S. from South Carolina to Florida they actually remained fairly popular with the public all of the way through the 1960s, which is a significant reason why several of then-Seaboard Coast Line's fleet was retained after Amtrak began.
While the carrier's versions of the trains today are not quite as opulent, combined they still attract nearly one millions riders annually. The most prominent train to make up Amtrak's Silver Service today would certainly be the SAL's Silver Meteor.
This train was the railroad's flagship, first inaugurated on February 2, 1939 just when the streamliner craze was really catching on around the country. The Meteor evoked the South in every way possible with "tropical" colors adorning both the exterior and interior.
While the original train was meant to be an all-coach run on the SAL it also offered through Pullman, sleeper service between Richmond-New York/Boston via the Pennsylvania and New Haven railroads.
In the 1950s the Meteor sported its most prominent feature, the “Sun Lounge”, which featured glass ceilings since height restrictions forced the railroad from using domes.
In any event, the inauguration of the Silver Meteor forced rival Atlantic Coast Line to scramble and showcase its own streamliner to Florida, The Champion.
By the late 1960s both trains were still in service on the Seaboard Coast Line and because of their success survived through the start of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.
While the Silver Meteor has been retained by Amtrak it has undergone numerous routing changes, and even a name change since 1971. The train began bypassing Jacksonville just a year later in 1972, one of the major stops under SAL ownership. However, this was returned in 1973.
Later that decade and into the 1980s it switched over to former ACL lines in Florida although part of these changes were due to the abandonment of SAL corridors as then CSX Transportation.
Today, the Meteor uses Amfleet coaches for dining, lounge, snack, and diner services while Viewliners sleepers as used for nightly accommodations. Power north of Washington, D.C. is provided by AEM-7 electrics and General Electric "Genesis" diesels south of that point.
Overall, the entire corridor from Boston to Miami is 1,389 miles in length and requires more than 28 hours per trip. Ironically, this is now more than two hours slower than during the Seaboard era when the train required just under 26 hours along the same route.
Annual ridership on the Meteor now sits at nearly 400,000 annually, or just over 1,000 passengers per trip. As for the Silver Star the sister train to the Meteor offers quite a similar routing.
However, the one change with the train is that it connects directly to Tampa before reaching Miami as its sibling bypasses this city (but does offer bus service).
As such, the entire route is 1,522 miles in length, nearly 150 miles longer. The accommodations, however, are roughly the same with Amfleet and Viewliner cars used on every train. A typical consist for the Star includes a baggage, two Viewliners, a Heritage Fleet diner, a café car, and at least three coaches.
This unique service allows passengers to transport their vehicles (cars, motorcycles, or small boats) along with them on the train. The Auto Train operates between Lorton, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.), and Sanford, Florida (near Orlando), providing a convenient option for travelers who wish to avoid long-distance driving.
Tri-Rail, officially known as the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) Tri-Rail Commuter System, is a commuter rail service that operates in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. It was established in January, 1989 to alleviate traffic congestion along the busy Interstate 95 corridor and provide an alternative mode of transportation for commuters.
Tri-Rail operates along a 74-mile corridor, stretching from Miami International Airport to Mangonia Park, with 18 stations serving major urban centers, employment hubs, and suburban neighborhoods. The rail system effectively connects cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, providing a seamless and convenient commuting experience for thousands of daily passengers.
The service operates seven days a week, with increased frequency during peak hours. Weekday service starts early in the morning and continues until late evening, catering to individuals working various shifts. On weekends, Tri-Rail offers a reduced schedule, ensuring continued accessibility for those who rely on public transportation outside of typical working hours.
Tri-Rail prioritizes passenger comfort and convenience. The trains are equipped with comfortable seating, spacious interiors, and amenities like Wi-Fi access, charging stations, and bike racks.
Passengers can relax, catch up on work, or simply enjoy the journey while avoiding the stress of traffic congestion on busy roadways. Additionally, Tri-Rail stations provide ample parking spaces, making it convenient for commuters to park their vehicles and board the train.
Tri-Rail plays a crucial role in integrating various transit modes within the region. Many Tri-Rail stations are strategically located near bus terminals, allowing passengers to seamlessly transfer between rail and bus services. This interconnectivity facilitates multi-modal commuting, enabling passengers to reach their final destinations efficiently and sustainably.
Tri-Rail has plans for future expansion and enhancement. The Tri-Rail Coastal Link project aims to extend service to downtown Miami, connecting the existing Tri-Rail system with the vibrant urban core. This expansion will further improve connectivity within the region and offer additional commuting options for residents and visitors.
SunRail, operated by the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (CFRTA), is a commuter rail system serving the Central Florida region. Launched in 2014, SunRail was introduced as a solution to the increasing traffic congestion on major roadways and as a means to enhance connectivity for commuters.
SunRail operates along a 61-mile corridor, spanning four counties: Volusia, Seminole, Orange, and Osceola. The service connects key urban centers, suburban neighborhoods, and employment hubs within the region. The route encompasses stations in cities such as DeBary, Sanford, Orlando, and Poinciana, ensuring widespread coverage and accessibility for residents and visitors.
On weekdays, the service operates from early morning to late evening, with increased frequency during peak hours. The trains operate less frequently during non-peak hours and weekends, providing essential service for those who rely on public transportation beyond traditional working hours.
SunRail has plans for future expansion and enhancements to further improve connectivity and service in Central Florida. Proposed expansions include extending the rail line to DeLand in Volusia County, and adding new stations to better serve growing communities and key destinations. These expansion efforts will increase accessibility and connectivity, further reducing reliance on personal vehicles and easing congestion.
Rail travel in Florida plays a significant role in the state's transportation infrastructure, connecting major cities, regions, and tourist destinations. Brightline, Amtrak, Tri-Rail, and SunRail offer a variety of routes and schedules to cater to the needs of both residents and visitors.
These train services provide a reliable, comfortable, and eco-friendly alternative to driving or flying, easing traffic congestion, reducing carbon emissions, and contributing to sustainable transportation in the Sunshine State.
As Florida continues to grow and evolve, the expansion and improvement of passenger train services will further enhance connectivity, accessibility, and mobility throughout the state.
If you are simply after a train ride for the day, Florida is home to a few organizations which offer scenic trips for the public. Most notably these include the Florida Railroad Museum, Seminole Gulf Railway, and Gold Coast Railroad Museum.