Month: November 2015

New Florida train service to whisk passengers between Miami and Orlando

A privately owned and operated passenger rail service is on track to begin connecting travelers in four major Florida cities by mid-2017.

Today, All Aboard Florida is slated to reveal that the new express inter-city train travel service, which will cost more than $3 billion to build, will be called theBrightline.

Brightline trains will connect Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando along a 235-mile route. The stretch from Miami to Orlando will last three hours, comparable to what it takes to get to the airport, go through security and fly, developers say.

The trains, designed by the Rockwell Group, are being built in Sacramento by Siemens. Construction has begun on stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and on connecting urban centers that developers hope will become dining and shopping destinations. Another station will be next to Orlando International Airport.

All Aboard Florida is a wholly owned subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, which is involved in a range of infrastructure, transportation and real estate businesses. The project is being funded by private investors through the issuance of $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds and directly from the parent company. The company expects to become profitable in the first couple of years as its adds more trains and ridership increases.

All Aboard Florida and tourism officials say the trains and their stations could transform travel throughout Florida, one of the country’s most populous states. Providing trains as an alternative could ease congestion on the roads and alleviate pressure on crowded airports.

“Half of our business is international,” says William Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. “To connect Miami and those other three communities by train makes it convenient, affordable, clean and safe to travel. It gives the visitor options that we haven’t had before.”

Trains were the primary mode of transportation in the USA until after World War II, when cars and airlines took over the roads and skies. Federally funded Amtrak has remained the predominant interstate passenger train system, but it does not offer the kind of high-speed service found in Europe and Asia.

The closest thing the USA has to high-speed trains is Amtrak’s Acela on the northeast corridor, which can go as fast as 150 mph. Brightline trains will not be high-speed, but its express service will be able to go up to 125 mph.

High-speed rail “takes more money and fully dedicated track and electrification,” says Andy Kunz, president and CEO of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association.

There’s been a recent resurgence in interest in trains, particularly among younger travelers, says Jim Wallington, a train expert at America by Rail, which promotes train travel.

“This younger generation is less car prone,” he says. “They are not buying cars like we used to, and they are demanding that there be alternate transportation.”

President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill proposed billions of dollars in funding to create a true high-speed rail system across the nation. His efforts have stalled amid political opposition.

Privately led efforts are underway to create high-speed rail systems in Texas and between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. A publicly led high-speed rail system is under construction in California. That will eventually connect Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours.

Unlike other privately led projects, All Aboard Florida won’t lease rails. Its sister company, Florida East Coast Railway, owns the existing freight corridor. All Aboard Florida owns the right of way to run passenger rail along that corridor. In some areas, the company is installing second tracks that it owns.

“Every metropolitan region across America is highly congested, and it’s all continuing to grow worse as our population continues to grow,” says the High Speed Rail Association’s Kunz. “They’re really not building any more major highways or new roads, so this leads to ever-growing congestion. The only way out of this downward spiral is to move thousands of people out of cars and into fast trains.”

Mike Reininger, president of Brightline, says it’s not just about speed. The experience matters, too. The company plans to blend train travel and hospitality in a way that hasn’t been done since the heyday of passenger rail service in the 1940s and ’50s.

“Everything from how you communicate with us — whether on the computer or mobile device — to the experience in our stations that we are building and operating, … the seats, the tables, the bathrooms, the food and beverage are one continuous experience bathed in this hospitality overlay,” he says.

The company is still working out specifics of what the experience will be like. But there will be free Wi-Fi and multiple power outlets at every seat. Reserved seating will be available in various configurations, including single seats and tables for groups of four. Ticket prices have not been set.

Various food and beverage options will be available both at the stations and on the train, including grab-and-go meals. The service will be pet-friendly, allowing travel with dogs and cats.

Even the train’s look is intended to bring the fun back into travel. In a nod to its name, each train will be painted in one of five different bright colors — red, orange, green, blue or pink — and a yellow locomotive will lead the way.

Amtrak makes stops in the cities Brightline will serve, but Reininger says his company will provide more frequent stops. Also, he says, Amtrak trains typically run at slower speeds in Florida.

Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods says the company would welcome Brightline’s debut.

“Expansion of intercity passenger rail is a positive step to ensure the mobility and connectivity needed to drive the country’s economic growth,” she says.

Not everyone is on board with the new train service, however. Citizens Against Rail Expansion, a coalition of residents and community leaders in South Florida, argues that the rail system will compromise public safety. A number of hospitals along the route are on one side of the tracks while first responders are on the other, says Stephen Ryan, an attorney representing CARE.

Lufthansa: Week-long strike grounds nearly half a million fliers

Another day, another strike-related mess for Lufthansa’s customers.

The carrier grounded about a third of its entire flight schedule on Thursday as striking flight attendants walked off the job for the sixth time in seven days.

The labor disruption forced the German carrier to cancel more than 930 flights, including most of its Thursday schedule to the United States. Lufthansa estimates that Thursday’s disruption has stranded 107,000 of its customers. The carrier has already pared its Friday schedule as well, preemptively canceling more than 940 flights that will impact about 111,000 fliers.

FLIGHT TRACKER: Is your flight on time?

The overall toll of the attendants strike has been staggering since it first began last Friday (Nov. 6). Combined, Lufthansa has canceled about 3,700 flights affecting more than 440,000 passengers – nearly half a million travelers.

Among the key disputes are retirement benefits. In particular, attendants are reportedly unhappy on Lufthansa’s plans regarding “transition” payments for members who retire early. Such transition payments help guarantee wages and benefits until government plans began at standard retirement ages.

Strikes have become a recurring problem for Lufthansa, which has been working to cut costs this decade. The carrier is facing increased competition in Europe low-cost rivals and in international markets from the rapid global expansion of Persian Gulf rivals Emirates,Etihad and Qatar Airways.

The strikes have come with a price tag. Bloomberg News estimates “Lufthansa’s losses from a series of crippling strikes over the past 10 months are set to surpass 230 million euros ($247 million), eclipsing expenses from a spate of walkouts last year.”

You have ONE DAY to book Virgin America first class tickets for less than coach

Photo: Kentaro IEMOTO, Flickr

Photo: Kentaro IEMOTO/Flickr

Virgin America is celebrating the most American of holidays (OK, maybe second most) with an incredible Thanksgiving week 50% off sale on First Class and Main Cabin Select tickets, in effect making it cheaper to fly first class than it is to travel coach.

There are some majorly tight restrictions here, so you’re going to have to get booking almost immediately. The sale ends at 11:59 Pacific Time on Wednesday, November 11. But for those of you who have room to spare on that credit card balance, use the code POSH at checkout on any nonstop or connecting travel routes between Thursday, November 19 and Friday, November 27 to score the sweet savings.

We previewed the deal ourselves (wishful thinking!), comparing prices on flights from San Francisco to Boston, and the deals speak for themselves. Regular prices for the trip:

Screenshot: Virgin

Screenshot: Virgin

Aaaaand the POSH discount prices:

Screenshot: Virgin

Screenshot: Virgin

First class tickets will actually cost you less than seats in the main cabin on that redeye flight, and that’s hardly the only deal worth taking advantage of. But again, remember that the POSH promo ends extremely soon. For a full list of restrictions, or just to have an excuse to “accidentally” book a trip out of town this month, check out the Virgin America POSH promo page. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wow Air to launch flights to San Francisco, LA

Icelandic budget carrier Wow Air is expanding its transatlantic route network to the US West Coast.
The airline which sells one way tickets to Europe from just $99 will fly from its Reykjavik base to San Francisco five times a week and Los Angeles four times from next summer.
From Reykjavik, Wow offers connections to more than a dozen European destinations.
Ticket prices will be announced in January when reservations go live for the flights and the actual start dates for each service are still to be confirmed.
WOW began flying to the US earlier this year with services to Boston and Balitimore/Washington DC.
It will fly A330-300 jets on the Los Angeles and San Francisco routes with one-class economy cabins.
It also said earlier this year it plans to add flights to Toronto and Montreal.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015