All aboard! Brightline doubles down on tech-fueled offerings to improve South Florida mobility

By Riley Kaminer

Spending some time with Brightline chief technology and digital innovation officer Kevin T. McAuliffe made it clear that the company is running much more than trains up and down Florida’s east coast. Rather, Brightline can be seen as a tech company – innovating on the platforms that keep the trains moving just as much as getting us from point A to point B.

Brightline originally opened in 2018 but paused service for a year and a half due to the pandemic. At first, the train served Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. Last December, Brighline opened stations in Aventura and Boca Raton. And Brighline is already selling tickets to and from its Orlando station starting in September.

The experience is much more customer-centric than what we’ve come to expect from trains in the US, featuring luxurious lounges, copious beverage options, and last-mile mobility add-ons. This focus on customers extends deeply into the tech powering Brightline’s systems – tech that is constantly being improved.

“Digital innovation isn’t always about how you tap into some new technology,” McAuliffe told Refresh Miami. “It’s about how you build a vision that enables your guests to get where they need to go seamlessly. Our goal is to make it a better overall digital experience to match the ride.”

McAuliffe emphasized the importance of keeping his fingers on the pulse of what consumers expect from Brightline’s digital platform, noting that these consumer expectations have changed significantly since the pandemic. 

“The behavior of a commuter is completely different than it was before COVID,” McAuliffe asserted. “The expectation of technology – being that we all lived at home – expecting it to just work. That expectation has carried forward, and that changes the way we do things.”

“It’s also about meeting riders where they are,” he added. For instance, McAuliffe admitted that some users found Brightline’s autonomous, cashierless market a bit confusing. “It was a swing and a miss, but we’re hoping to try again by leveraging the most practical technological opportunities out there without maybe trying to be too innovative too fast.”

Of course, this innovative mentality also provided Brightline with some wins, such as becoming the first passenger rail service in the world to offer Starlink’s high-speed internet. It also has a complex series of IoT integrations that ensure users know as much information as possible about the status of their journey. 

At the end of July, Brightline’s tech team pushed out a major revamp of its digital experience. At the core of this new release were a faster, safer, more reliable new website and a mobile app that Brightline redesigned based on user feedback. Going forward, Brighline hopes to develop AI tools to better leverage all the data it collects.

McAuliffe was particularly excited about deploying the company’s new mobile ticketing platform, which is powered by S3 Passenger, built by Siemens Mobility subsidiary Sqills.

“We went from a plane reservation pack backend to a full on train backend system from the Netherlands,” explained McAuliffe. “We went with this company because they are not only great technologists but also train enthusiasts. 

“It’s really about being smarter about who we’re partnering with, and making a decision to put ourselves on a footing that enables us to scale this business to multiple locations across the US – not just Florida, but also the West Coast and any other place where we want to put a train.”

The entrance of Brightline’s new Orlando station.


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Riley Kaminer