A New Express train service debuts in Florida, now called Virgin Trains USA
By Katherine Sautter
Brightline is finally here! With a new name as of November 2018, it’s now Virgin Trains USA.
The newly opened Virgin Trains USA express trains are really something great to come to South Florida. The modern trainsets, with four passenger cars and high-speed engines, don’t rattle or bump the way old railroads used to do.
It’s an exciting time to be living in Florida and watch the traffic jams on highways from the comfort of a railroad car.
Like many South Floridians, I have been following the progress of this bold new vision since its inception five short years ago and could hardly wait to be one of the first to ride. And, ride I did, on the first-day service opened to the public.
It was a clear, crisp Saturday and I set out for lunch in Palm Beach. I had my sights set on shopping around City Place, then going over to the newly opened RH (Restoration Hardware) flagship store to get some design inspiration and dine in their rooftop restaurant.
Purchased Tickets online
After some trouble when the website first launched on Thursday, I was able to purchase my ticket online and intended to go up in regular class, a ten dollar fare and come back in first class which they call Select, a fifteen dollar fare; but I ended up with Select in both directions, oh well! Too bad!
In either case, you are prompted to select your seat from seating configurations that differ from single-seat window, to two across, to two across facing each other with a table in between; so, something for everyone.
The station itself is well marked, well thought out and an example of the current architectural design trend with sleek glass and oblique angles. The semi-circular drive in front allows for easy drop off and pick up.
Inside there are big screen monitors overhead displaying detailed train schedules and status, self-serve ticketing machines, as well as attendants behind a counter to assist.
At the machines, I could turn my email confirmation into a paper ticket to be scanned for entry deeper into the station.
Check Your Luggage
Similar to the airlines, you can check your luggage and carry on small pieces. Dogs up to seventy pounds have a designated compartment in which they can travel in carriers, either provided by their owner or supplied byVirgin Trains USA.
Small dogs can ride in carriers under the seat. Each train is equipped with bike racks. These Virgin Trains USA trains are the first fully ADA accessible trains in the country.
I ascend the steep glistening escalator to be greeted by Virgin Trains USA attendants who show me how to scan my ticket for further entry.
Uniformed security personnel observe all entrants, but are not invasive like TSA. The waiting area’s floor to ceiling glass windows run parallel to the tracks so you can watch all the action.
There is a children’s play area, multiple seating areas for both working and lounging, charging stations, televisions and train status monitors throughout.
There is a sundry shop, a bar serving Illy coffee drinks, alcohol after 3 pm and take away dining options that really look enticing.
The restroom facilities are by Dyson featuring totally touchless systems and a water fountain specifically outfitted to refill your water bottle or thermos. There’s even a separate lounge for Select passengers at one end enclosed by glass on three sides, which gives you a slight sensation of floating and a great view of the trains coming and going.
A Sleek Design
You can hear the loud blast of the horn and watch as the train pulls into the station. Its cutting-edge design is sleek and powerful underneath the brightly colored exterior making it look a bit like a highspeed monorail.
The locomotives are powered by Florida Power and Light clean biodiesel and have diesel-electric engines making them quieter while producing lower emissions.
People make their way downstairs to scan their tickets once again and board. The trains are as sleek on the inside as they are on the outside.
No detail overlooked, every bit of space seems to be used to best advantage.
Crisp bright light bounces off the light colored upholstery of the luxuriously cushioned very wide seats. Snuggled into my seat, I could plug my devices into any of three personal outlets or a USB.
Free high-speed Wi-Fi keeps you connected throughout your journey.
Only the sound of the whistle alerting of our departure gave me a clue we were on our way, so smooth was the initiation of our trip. It really is more like the monorail ride experience than any train I have traveled.
I know many extoll the virtues of train travel in Europe and I am one of them: easy, convenient, carefree travel; however, this is, as Emeril says, “kicking it up a notch” or maybe a few as far as the station and onboard experience are concerned.
Like a Voyeur
The scenery glides past revealing parts of our counties I haven’t seen in ages. Some of the warehouse districts that have been urbanized are the most interesting to me as I almost feel like a voyeur observing the creative uses of the structures and imaginative graffiti that decorates large swaths of them.
An attendant pushes a cart down the center aisle offering beverages and snacks, the same premium offerings we saw in the station. Before I know it, thirty-five minutes have glided by and we are pulling into the Palm Beach station.
I immediately notice the SkyBike rental out front because I thought it would be a lovely way to cruise around the island. The Palm Trolley and Palm Tram stop here and there is an Avis rental car desk, as well.
This station is designed and outfitted very much like the Fort Lauderdale station including the adjacent large parking garage. It’s such a lovely day I decide to walk the short hop over to City Place to shop around.
The impressive Kravis Center for the Performing Arts (website) is across the street and I make a mental note that its performances are now easily within my reach. I enjoy looking into lots of fun boutiques, shops, and restaurants.
Then I make my way across Okeechobee Boulevard to the median where the iconic 80,000 square foot building has been constructed on four levels to serve as the RH flagship store.
The garden area on the ground floor by which I enter is so intimate and perfectly detailed it makes me wonder if I am in a private home.
Will the butler be out to serve the aperitifs soon? I make my way up a wide winding staircase towards the Rooftop Restaurant all the while forcing myself not to be seduced into the showroom, but to stick to the task of putting my name on the list, which has a 45-minute wait at 12:15.
Hungry Patrons Waiting
The place is crowded with hungry patrons waiting for their turn. Some sip champagne, others sit in deep luxurious chairs chatting with cups of coffee on marble tables beside them.
I am free to enjoy the luxe gallery for forty-five minutes until I receive a text that my table awaits. The massive, well-lit with large mullioned windows lends itself to display the furnishings to best advantage.
The floors are divided into styles making it easier to browse whatever is most pertinent to you. There is a large design atelier busy with designers collaborating with their clients.
The text alert comes and I am led to the prime location of a table for two in front of the beautiful large trickling fountain in the center of the soaring atrium. With its vaulted glass ceiling and massive olive trees in decorative pots you definitely have the feeling of dining al fresco.
Chicago restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff oversees this aspect of the experience and it’s nothing short of delightful. The menu was creative and fun, the food was delicious. The service was a little spotty, but it was very crowded and all the staff was professional and congenial, if not prompt.
Time escaped me and I hurried back to the train home. Just for fun, I jumped on the Palm Trolley to be delivered in front of the station with lots of time to spare.
As I waited in the Select lounge, I encountered a friend, also a second generation Fort Lauderdale native. She had been following the evolution of Virgin Trains USA as well and had the same idea as I for a fun Saturday outing.
Beverage Cart Comes Through
Once on board, the beverage cart attendant offered us wine and prosecco. We offered a toast to a great new asset for our fair city and to all the great adventures to come!
As we walked to our cars, we decided to get some other friends together to visit the Norton Art Museum in Palm Beach and then the Frost Museum in Miami as soon as the Miami leg opens this spring.
Virgin Trains USA is shrinking our tri-county area and putting rich opportunities in easy reach. Traffic and parking have become major impediments to enjoying the activities and amenities in our neighboring counties, but with Virgin Trains that’s a thing of the past.
Find out more at GoBrightline.com. Service expected to be extended to Miami and eventually, Orlando.