Publish Date: 
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 - 11:45am


Original article written by Debora Lima of the South Florida Business Journal.

With a new CEO in place, Brightline is readying for its summer debut in South Florida. But as executives of the company behind the passenger rail service told the Business Journal on Tuesday, it will be at least two and a half years before trains reach Orlando.

Standing in the way is ongoing litigation that has tangled financing plans for the project since 2015, when two Treasure Coast counties sued Brightline and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In the lawsuit, attorneys representing Martin and Indian River County allege the DOT skirted protocol pertaining to environmental impact studies, giving Brightline improper access to over $1 billion worth of tax-exempt government bonds to build the train project through their cities.

Service between South Florida and Orlando International Airport was slated to begin by year-end. But at least two and half years have since been tacked on to the original timetable.

Michael Reininger, former president of Brightline and now executive director of Brightline parent company Florida East Coast Industries, said Tuesday that the West Palm Beach-to-Orlando portion of the train project, referred to as Phase II, needs additional permits. A concrete financing plan is not yet in place either. Once those to-do’s are checked off, the real work begins.

“As a practical matter, there’s about 30 months of construction that needs to be done,” Reininger said. “We won’t start that construction until we finish the permitting and get the financing put in place.”

In the meantime, Brightline will focus on successfully debuting Phase I, with stops in downtown Miami, downtown Fort Lauderdale and downtown West Palm Beach. Newly installed CEO Dave Howard will oversee the transition from construction to hospitality as Brightline begins catering to passengers.

“Elements of the guest experience – all those behind-the-scene things – have great impact,” said Howard, a former executive with the New York Mets baseball franchise and the Madison Square Garden Co.

As for Reininger, his promotion elevates his duties within Florida East Coast Industries from execution to expansion. National infrastructure is in the spotlight with the Trump administration, which is expected to push for a $1 trillion public works package. Reininger says while nothing is in the works, Brightline stands uniquely positioned to contribute to the momentum.

“National attention in investment into our infrastructure has never been greater, particularly the conversation around how the expertise and capital of the private sector can be deployed,” he said. “We feel we have a unique set of capabilities.”