The Florida Brightline Railroad was a great experience but suffers from one fatal flaw – This blog entry is my review of the Brightline Railroad and why I was livid when I left. Read the entire blog post to see why the trip started out on a high note and ended in a massive disappointment (and one that could carry some legal consequences).
I like to meetup with a few friends every few weekends to unwind over Sushi and a movie. Yesterday (April 07, 2018) we met up in West Palm Beach for Sushi and a showing of Ready Player One. Normally I drive up there but I decided to forgo the long drive from my house to West Palm Beach by taking the new Florida Brightline Railroad.
I wanted to to get the best possible Brightline experience so I booked the $20.00 via the Mobile Application shortly before leaving my house to catch the 3:25 Train departing from the Ft Lauderdale Station. The purchase process was painless and worked exactly as expected with a conformation number and my electronic ticket being sent within 20 seconds of my purchase.
On a side note : There are 2 ticket tiers Standard and Select. The pricing for Standard is $15.00 and the pricing for Select is $20.00. Brightline was running a special during the time I booked my trip that reduced the price of the standard to $10.00. These are one-way tickets.
Parking (Part One)
I arrived at the station about an hour early so I can take my time and explore a bit before my train departs. When entering the parking garage, there were several signs posted saying that the parking is currently free in the “Introductory Period for Brightline Customers”. It is clear that Brightline is going to be charging for parking in the near future. This complimentary parking during the Introductory Period is something that Brightline is very proud of – they even boasted about this on Social Media.
South Floridians are accustomed to problematic parking; we want to change that. We're offering limited-time introductory free parking for all Brightline guests at our stations. #gobrightline #carfree pic.twitter.com/lyFk8mC0RK
— Brightline (@GoBrightline) March 12, 2018
The parking garage was very clean and well maintained. It is also well lit and a very short walk to the main train station – which is detached from the garage. The walk to the station is also covered (but outdoors) so you should be safe from the elements.
We will get back to parking in a bit – trust me.
Although I had a electronic ticket, I wanted to get my hands on a paper ticket just to have. Fortunately Brightline had a small team of ticket agents who were very welcoming and helpful. After getting my ticket, I was instructed to go up the escalator and given directions to get to the “Select Lounge”. I was also told to help myself to the selection of beverages and snacks in the lounge.
After getting to the top of the escalator, I had to scan my ticket at the gates to enter the main station waiting area. My small backpack was also x-rayed by security – not something that I have ever had done on a train but I had no objections. After being given the all clear, I was walking towards the waiting area. The whole process took about 45 seconds.
Note : Ticketed Passengers are only allowed through security. There is a small waiting area by the ticketing agents if you want to wait with non-ticketed friends or family members.
Main Waiting Area
As I arrived early, I decided to take a few minutes to have a look around the mostly empty main waiting area. The main waiting area was divided into 3 main sections – the cafe, the self service shop and the sitting area.
The Cafe is a small food counter where you can order a selection of hot coffee based drinks, teas and hot foods. The prices for many of the food items were a bit on the high side but the drink prices were very reasonable. The cafe also has a selection of Alcoholic beverages for purchase as well.
The Self Service Shop
The Self Service Shop has a selection of grab and go snacks and drinks for those in a rush or those who do not want human contact. There are bottled drinks, fresh fruit, chips, granola bars and other bagged snacks that customers can grab to snack on while on the train. Once you have made your selection, you simply need to head to one of the 4 self service checkout machines in the center of the shop.
The Main Sitting Area
Most of the passengers will be spending their time in the main sitting area which is a very clean, modern and comfortable lounge with plenty of seating and an obscene number of USB Ports and AC Outlets at each seat. There are also tables with power for those who want to pull out a laptop and get some work done. All of the seats are leather and very comfortable.
The restrooms are located off of the main waiting area. As expected, they were clean and modern. My only complaint is that I wish the restrooms were larger as the men’s room can only accommodate around 5 people at a time but the station has seating for over a hundred.
The Select Lounge
For passengers willing to spend a bit more to upgrade to “Select”, there is access to the Select Lounge. In order to enter the Select Lounge, customers are required to scan their tickets at a second gate at the entry to the lounge. The lounge is located off to the side of the main waiting area with a half wall partition separating the 2 areas.
While in the select lounge, I found a seat with access to a few outlets to charge my devices. While that was happening, I pulled out my Pixelbook to catch up on the latest news. Sadly the Brightline station has very bad cell phone reception but fortunately they make up for this by having a surprisingly good WiFi connection made available to all – free of course.
I took a trip over to the Select Snack Bar which featured several complimentary snacks for customers in the lounge. They had cans of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Sierra Mist in a min-fridge for guests to help themselves to. They had coffee and tea as well. They also had several granola bars and bagged chips for guests to snack on. Sadly they did not have cold or bottled water at the snack bar – which should be a staple.
Brightline offers free WiFi to all guests while at the station and onboard the train. The WiFi speeds were better than most public WiFi hotspots with speeds averaging 15 Mbps down – peaking occasionally to 26 Mbps at times. The Brightline access points do not block VPNs and as the network is unsecured – it is strongly advised to use a VPN. They also do not block access to streaming media services and the speeds were more than enough to stream HD Content from Netflix and YouTube while waiting for your train.
While on the train, the speeds do slow a bit, averaging 10 Mbit down, which is still plenty to stream content. Again, they do not block VPNs or Streaming Media while onboard.
About 15 minutes before the train was scheduled to depart, they announced that they are starting the boarding process. All passengers were advised to make their way to the set of escalators that led to the train platform. Our tickets had the car number and seat number on them (in my case, Car 1, Seat 15). The boarding process was also very streamlined. The car attendants were very welcoming and were there to make your trip comfortable.
One of the nice surprises of the Select Cars on the train is just how spacious they are. They is plenty of leg-room, massive isles, comfortable seats and the largest tray tables I have ever seen – easily accommodating a 15-17 inch laptop. Sharing the same trend found in the stations, the trains are incredibly clean, modern and have a crazy number of outlets – enough for each passenger to have 2 or 3 laptops charging at a time!.
There is plenty of overhead storage for baggage. Brightline also has the option to bring aboard bicycles and checked baggage.
Note: for those in wheelchairs, there is plenty of room and accessibility features on the train. Elevators take the place of escalators and wheelchair access was clearly not an afterthought in the design of the train. The isles on the train will easily accommodate wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, and maybe even a small utility van if you try hard enough.
Shortly after the train departed, the car attendants came down the isle to offer all of us drinks and a snack – included with the cost of the Select seating (standard class customers would need to purchase snacks and beverages). The drink selection on the train had far more options then at the station. Drinks include a selection Pepsi products, juices, coffee, tea, iced tea, beer, wine and spirits. If you partake in adult beverages, this is also free to Select Customers on the train. Furthermore unlike the station, they will provide bottles of water.
I have taken several trains in my day and I will say that the Brightline is one of the smoothest rides ever. You do not feel all of the bumps as you do on other railways – such as Amtrak which can be violent at times. The train was also extremely quiet so you can leave the bulky expensive noise canceling headphones at home and bring a more compact pair.
I pulled out my Laptop to entertain myself and was happy to see that the same strong WiFi I enjoyed on the station platform also carried onto the trains.
The trains also have restrooms on board and as expected these are spacious, modern and clean. These are nothing like the restrooms you see on other trains and planes. You can clearly tell that the trains are professionally cleaned daily – maybe between each trip.
Approximately 15 minutes before the arrival at the station, a attendant came through the cart to collect trash. An announcement was made over the loud speakers advising us to start getting ready for the arrival in West Palm Beach.
The train pulled into the station and we were ushered to an identical escalator that we used to get on the loading platform in Ft Lauderdale. We pulled into a station that was almost identical to the Ft Lauderdale Station with the exact same set of amenities and a very similar layout. It was also equally as clean and well maintained.
I was picked up in the drop off area by a friend and after picking up another friend, we were on our way to Sushi and Ready Player One. We have a great time but this is where the story takes a turn for the worse.
The Disappointment – aka The Parking (Part 2)
Sadly I was not able to catch the final train as we choose a later movie then originally planned. This was not a huge problem as my friend offered to drive me back to the Ft Lauderdale Station so I can pick up my car and drive the rest of the way home.
I was dropped off at the Ft Lauderdale station shortly before 1 AM. I started walking up the stairs in the parking garage when a car pulled up and honked the horn. I turned around and a security guard in the car asked what I was doing in the garage. I was also asked if I took the Brightline. I honestly did not mind the questioning and politely explained that I took the Brightline to go to West Palm Beach a bit earlier in the day but was not able to get on the last train (departing West Palm Beach at 9:30 PM and arriving at 10:10 PM). I was honestly happy that Brightline was doing their best to secure the parking garage that I trusted my vehicle in. Before I go onto the next statement – I do want to say that the guard I spoke to was professional – exactly the same as all of the other Brightline staff members I interacted with throughout the day.
Everything was great until I got to my car and found that the Security Company left me a gift – They put a sticker saying that my car was illegally parked and subject to being towed away or booted. If anyone has ever had to remove one of these stickers, you know how irritated I was after seeing it. It was not just my car but every car in the garage that I could see – essentially the security company plastered all calls shortly after the last train pulled out of the station. There were over 12 cars in the lot as I pulled out, each with its own sticker.
This is simply unacceptable for a few reasons:
- Nowhere in Brightline’s Terms Of Service does it state that there are restrictions on overnight parking. I was only parked for a total of 7 hours. The Terms of Service is actually so poorly written that it does not even mention the word “Parking”. I am uploading a copy of the Brightline Terms of Service As of April 08, 2018 to this website in case it changes in the future.
- The only reference to “Parking” on their website can be found on the “FAQ” Section of the website. There is a FAQ titled “How Does Parking Work?” with the answer “We’re currently offering limited-time, introductory FREE parking to all Brightline guests! So, come on over.” – Again nothing stating that Overnight Parking is not permitted.
- Furthermore there were no signs anywhere in the garage saying that there is no overnight parking – something that could open them up to major legal problems if they have a car towed. Even the tweet I posted earlier in the post was welcoming to commuters.
Realistically the Brightline would be a great option for a Senior Citizen who lives in the Miami Area to visit a family member in the Palm Beach Area and possibly spend the night before catching a return trip the next morning. It would be a disaster if they came back only to find their car towed and impounded. The fact that Brightline thinks this behavior is fine is frankly insane and unacceptable.
With this said, I do understand that the Brightline garages are located in “Prime Areas” where parking is at a premium. Downtown Ft Lauderdale’s massive selection of bars, nightclubs and other attractions are a short walk from the Brightline garage and I am sure that a few people take advantage of the free parking who have no intentions of taking the train. If this is really a problem, Brightline should have someone outside checking tickets as you enter the garage or display something on their dashboard. I have no problems with consequences for non-Brightline customers who had no business parking in the lot.
It is because of this, I do not think I will be able to take the Brightline again. It is sad as I had nothing but good things to say until my car was found with the sticker on. I missed the last train back – that was my fault and has nothing to do with the reason I am ending this review on a bad note.