Brightline, Florida East Coast steam -- 100 years of Sunshine State railroading

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Sunday, January 14, 2018

I was in Florida last week. No, I was not on vacation, neither at a beach nor Mouse World. In fact, it was rainy the first half of the trip, and down right cold (for Florida) on the second half (38 degrees Sunday morning. The primary railroad topic, as it has been in the Sunshine State for generations, was passenger trains. The newest of these trains, Brightline, was days from the start of revenue service. The oldest have been in museums for decades and date back to the early 20th century. Both are worthy of attention.

On Thursday, I stepped on board the nation’s newest, most cutting edge, passenger train, Brightline, poised to start regular service between West Palm Beach, Fla., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Saturday. The new Siemens-built trainsets are sleek, modern, and seem to include almost every conceivable amenity a passenger could want (food service, power outlets at the seats, bike racks, conferencing areas) and twin 4,400-hp Charger diesels flank five four-car trainsets that are color coded for the benefit of passengers and crew alike. Our shop tour was incredible. Again, it seems like Brightline thought of everything from the fuel pad, the mobile sand truck, and the portable wheel lathe. Other commitments took me away from the inaugural run, but I look forward to a return visit when I can try out the train that promises a most uncommon passenger train experience on U.S. soil.

The day before, I made my first visit to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, where Florida East Coast 4-6-2s Nos. 113 and 153 and heavy-weight coaches of Florida East Coast and Seaboard Air Line ancestry are among stars of the collection. These were the passenger trains of Henry Flagler, the trains of the Key West Extension, the trains that brought in rescue and supplies to hurricane victims. The locomotives were once the oil-burning pride of the FEC, and their antiquity is in stark contrast the modern polished look of Brightline’s diesel locomotives. Heck, Brightline’s units are so sleek and colorful they could be toothpaste tubes.

American railroading has changed drastically in the 100 years between FEC Pacifics and Brightline Chargers. Isn’t it exciting that in the state where the Atlantic Coast Line (and its partner FEC) once dueled rival Seaboard Air Line for customers that Brightline is back in this business once again? This time the rival is stifling traffic on Interstate 95, but the aim is the same: Move people from one place to another. Once again, Florida is a battlefield for the hearts and minds of potential railroad passengers. Let the games begin … under the sun.

Learn more about the fight for Florida railroad passengers with our video, Selling Sunshine: The Florida Trains, available at



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