Forget any preconceived notions you have about what it’s like to sit on a train. When privately owned Brightline passenger trains debut next summer the seats and the attention to detail will wow South Florida residents and leisure travelers alike. Rockwell Group had never worked on trains but the firm is well known…
Brightline’s New Railroad Operations Center
February 23, 2017
At Workshop b, a 12-acre campus in West Palm Beach, history is being made.
The “b” stands for Brightline, the only privately-funded express passenger rail system in the U.S. And it is at this new maintenance, repair and storage facility that BrightBlue, the first of five innovative trainsets set to change the course of travel in South Florida, is currently being tested.
“Some are tests mandated by the Federal Railroad Administration. Others we put in place to make sure we’re getting the right product,” says Tom Rutkowski, Brightline’s chief mechanical officer. The testing protocol covers everything from the doors, to the air-conditioning to the engines, and takes place both statically and dynamically.
Within Workshop b, there are four tracks including two under an 800-foot canopy that looks like an airplane hangar – but is long enough for a trainset with seven passenger cars and two locomotives. One of the covered tracks has a 500-foot pit so inspectors can walk underneath the entire train. The other is equipped with machinery to actually lift cars for repair work.
Outside there are two more tracks where Brightline’s passenger trains will soon be prepared for service and fueled. There’s even a mobile “train wash” to keep the cars sparking clean, Rutkowski says.
To put the Brightline trains through their paces, a test track was also created that starts about a mile south of Brightline’s new West Palm Beach train station and runs to Lake Worth, a total distance of about nine miles.
The BrightBlue trainset will be loaded with 45,000 pounds of sand (in 40-pound bags), subbing for passengers and baggage, so that commissioning routines on the test track could simulate a full train doing multiple runs a day, Rutkowski says.
Conducting the testing are representatives of Brightline and Sacramento, California-based Siemens, the company that built and will help maintain the 100% Buy America compliant passenger trains.
Another trainset, BrightPink, will arrive in West Palm Beach soon, followed by BrightGreen, BrightOrange and BrightRed.
While the passenger trains are undergoing rigorous testing there’s also additional activity on the Workshop b campus. In a new 15,000-square-foot building, five newly hired engineers from around the country are being trained and certified. They bring experience from both the passenger and freight train sectors, Rutkowski says.
“They have an operating rulebook and need to qualify on a whole series of both existing FECR rules and newly created Brightline passenger service rules,” Rutkowski says. Before they even get behind the controls, the engineers will also be required to learn all the physical characteristics of the train route.
“They go out on the railroad every day and they ride in the locomotive with an already certified engineer and memorize literally every milepost and every crossing, the entire physical characteristics, so they know it like the back of their hand,” Rutkowski explains.
In March, newly hired conductors will likewise begin extensive training. While the engineers drive the train, conductors are the ones who manage the train and control the logistics.
The building on the Workshop b campus will soon serve as the on-duty location for Brightline’s train crews, with about 120 employees working from the facility.
Testing of the five Brightline trainsets will be ongoing for the next few months, in advance of startup of service from West Palm Beach to Miami, with a stop at the new Fort Lauderdale train station.
Locals and visitors alike can catch views including from Federal Highway, and cheer on the test runs of the Brightline passenger trains.
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