Beginning Jan. 17, Brightline's new commuter trains will begin rolling every day from West Palm Beach across Brevard County to Frontenac — but they won't be carrying passengers yet.
Rather, these "qualifying trains" will familiarize Brightline train operators with the 130-mile Florida East Coast Railway corridor between Cocoa and West Palm Beach.
“This is when we're actually training the locomotive engineers and train conductors to learn the territory. So, no passengers," Brightline spokesperson Katie Mitzner said.
"And the top speeds will be 60 miles an hour, which is the top speed for freight (trains). So we will be operating at freight speeds," Mitzner said.
Crews have completed more than 70% of Brightline’s $2.7 billion higher-speed rail extension from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport. Trains from South Florida will follow the north-south FEC corridor — which is being double-tracked — to Cocoa, where they will turn west along a new set of tracks paralleling the Beachline Expressway.
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Brightline is targeting substantial completion of the Orlando extension by year's end, with passenger service starting in early 2023. A future Cocoa station remains in the discussion stages.
The first set of red-and-yellow, diesel-electric trains for the future Orlando route rolled off the assembly line in September at a Siemens Mobility rail-manufacturing plant in Sacramento, California.
Brightline officials expect to operate one Frontenac-West Palm Beach round-trip qualifying train per day through 2022. Frontenac is a small unincorporated community north of Cocoa, between Sharpes and Port St. John.
“This will be a train with two locomotives — one on each end — and four passenger cars. It will follow behind a northbound (FEC) train from West Palm all the way up to Frontenac, which is about a three-hour ride," Mitzner said.
"And then once up in Frontenac, it will stop. We will switch which locomotive we're driving in. And then we'll follow a southbound train back down to West Palm Beach," she said.
Mitzner said Brightline qualifying trains will travel 3 to 4 miles behind the FEC trains. In a press release, Brightline officials listed safety tips for motorists and pedestrians:
It is dangerous and illegal to drive or walk around crossing gates when they are down.
Remain alert and aware when near railroad tracks, remembering that trains operate in both directions.
Only cross tracks at a railroad crossing, and never walk alongside the tracks.
Never stop on the tracks.
“This is exciting. This is a critical step for us to be able to move forward in getting to Orlando," Mitzner said.
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Once passenger service launches next year, Brightline trains will travel at 79 to 110 mph in Brevard, Mike Cegelis, Brightline executive vice president of infrastructure, said during a Melbourne Regional Chamber speech in October.
At railroad crossings, Cegelis said it should take roughly 25 seconds for the gate to go down and Brightline's train to whiz by.
Trains should take a little more than three hours to travel between Orlando and Miami, and one-way tickets should cost about $100, Cegelis said
More than 1,300 workers have worked 4.7 million man-hours on Brightline's expansion, which includes 156 rail crossings between Cocoa and West Palm Beach. More than half have been upgraded with safety improvements, with the remainder slated for completion this year.
Brevard rail crossing closures
Cocoa: Rosa L. Jones Boulevard will reopen at 7 p.m. today, then close from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 24.
Cocoa: Peachtree Street will remain closed through 7 p.m. Thursday, then close from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 31.
Rockledge: Barnes Boulevard will close from 7 a.m. Tuesday until 7 p.m. Jan. 21, then close from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 4.
Rockledge: Ansin Road will close from 7 a.m. Jan. 17 until 7 p.m. Jan. 25, then close from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 8.
Melbourne: Aurora Road will close from 7 a.m. Jan. 18 until 7 p.m. Jan. 30, then close from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 13.
To sign up for Brightline text-alert updates on railroad crossing work, text RXR to 888-384-0037.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Brightline to travel from Brevard to West Palm Beach without riders