By Richard David Chamberlain. May 17,2018
There was a time, not so very long ago, when train travel was an elegant and highly anticipated form of transportation. There were writing desks aboard with free engraved stationery, a dining car with linen-covered tables, china plates with silver utensils, and uniformed porters who actually tipped their caps out of respect as they passed you in the aisles. I know this not because I’ve actually lived during that period of time when politeness and respect went hand-in-hand with the excitement of travel. No, what I know of train travel comes from old black and white films on the big screen in the fantasy world of movies.
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express were childhood thrillers that forever bonded me to the mystery that surely exists aboard all trains. I think I would have liked living back then, and must admit that a small part of me hoped to capture a sliver of the romance of train travel by hoping aboard the Brightline recently for a non-stop trip from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach with my husband.
For the uninitiated, Brightline is a diesel-electric higher speed express train that operates between the two destinations all day and night with additional runs on the weekends. Test runs are also being conducted to the company’s Miami station where service is expected to begin by the first of June.
Brightline, the trains, are owned by All Aboard Florida, the company, which itself is wholly owned by Florida East Coast Industries. And according to legion, this is the first time in half-a-century that a privately held company is running an express train service in the United States. The last time we’re told was in between 1970 and 1983 when the Rio Grande Zephyr operated service between Denver, Colorado and Ogden, Utah. The problem in that case was that Ogden was hardly a tourist capital, though it does have some interesting historic buildings according to the Chamber of Commerce.
Brightline has no such problem. When hubby and I recently took the train to West Palm Beach, we were headed to see the Henry Flagler Museum, otherwise known as Whitehall—his 75-room mansion constructed in 1902 at a time when Henry was building the railroad to bring folks from up north down to Florida for the healthy benefits of its sunshine. From the Brightline station in West Palm Beach, it is a quick five-minute Lyft ride to the estate, where you can get lost for hours.
To and fro, we were seated in quiet comfort in the Select section of the train (read: First Class) which costs $15 each way for the 40-minute or less ride. Currently, however, Brightline is running a two-for-one special, so the pair of us travelled roundtrip for $30. Seniors and kids ride at an additional discount.
There is not only free parking at both stations, in Select class there is also free drinks and grub. And it was surprising just how much free food and booze one can consume in just over a half-hour.
In the coach section, called Smart for no apparent reason, it will cost you $7 for a Bud Light, Stella Artois and assorted craft beers. It is also $7 for Simi Sonoma Valley Chardonnay, Mark West Pinot Noir, and a split of Martin & Rossi Prosecco. The good stuff, Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Champagne, is $16 for a split—which is actually a very good price. There is also Tequila Avión, Bacardi Rum, Beefeater Gin, Dewar’s White Label Scotch, Tito’s Vodka, and Wild Turkey Bourbon, all available at $9. Unless, of course, you are upfront in the Select coach where it’s free for the taking.
So too are the snacks, otherwise known as nibbles. There are assorted flavors of Kettle Brand Potato Chips at $3.25, as well as assorted Popchips, SkinnyPop popcorn, Lenn and Larry’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Haribo Gummy Bears. Up the ante to $8.50 and you get a Go Picnic Sunflower Butter & Multigrain Crackers or a Go Picnic Beef Salami & Asiago Cheese. Again, buy a Select class ticket and that too is on the house. Oh—and lest we forget, of course there are sodas (as in Pepsi and Schweppes products), plus coffee, tea, milk, premium bottled waters, and the essential Red Bull energy drink.
In the ultra-modern yellow and blue themed stations, there is the Brightline version of an airport lounge for Select customers, who enter through a high-tech glass entry point operated by scanning their tickets. The fridge is stocked and the counter is full. (Smart Couch customers can look, but not enter).
Taken all together, Brightline is a first-class service in any seat. The employees deserve a special nod for actually smiling and seem to be enjoying themselves. Imagine. Take the train to and from work, and these uniformed cuties will become your new best friends. They will even help you stow your bags in the baggage area at the entrance to each car, or your pet in its carrier under the seat in front of you. Yes, Fido is allowed, as is Sylvester, if appropriately contained.
Train travel is a great idea whose time has come to Florida, with future expansion expected to aim all the way to Orlando in the not too distant future (hopefully). Trust us when we say that as you are sitting in your comfortable leather seat, reclined just so, with a bit of the bubbly and a crisp or two….somehow I-95 with its parking lot traffic just seems so-oo yesterday. N’est-ce pas?