The Great Train Race

Where do you stand in regards to the Great Train Race? Are you rooting for Amtrak? Or for Brightline?

These two commuter rail organizations are racing against the clock to fully operationalize their networks by the end of the summer. And the stakes are high, potentially determining the future of American train travel.

Amtrak, of course, is the national rail system of the United States. It is leading a federally funded effort to repair the tunnels under the Hudson River, and to restore full service on its northeastern lines.

Brightline, on the other hand, is a privately funded initiative that plans to connect the Floridian cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando with environmentally friendly biodiesel trains. It is promising a late summer launch date.

So how are these projects progressing? Suffice it to say that both are experiencing challenges. Amtrak’s customers, for instance, are referring to its construction period as the “Summer of Hell.” And Brightline may need to postpone its opening date to the fall because of various legal and operational issues.

Nevertheless, if both projects succeed, a publicly funded entity and a privately funded system would each demonstrate that its ownership model is suited for our modern economy. Instead, if one succeeds and the other fails, the survivor would prove the superiority of its model.

And what if both fail? Given the poor physical conditions of America’s roads, and the “filled to capacity” status of its airports, there aren’t many palatable alternatives for rail travelers.

And so we all have a strong incentive to wish for Amtrak’s and Brightline’s success. If you’re not sure which system to root for, perhaps you could root for both to prevail.