A Tale of Two Trains
April 13, 2017
May 2, 2017
Brightline’s Michael Lefevre has been named one of Progressive Railroading magazine’s “Rising Stars” for 2017. This program identifies individuals under the age of 40 who are already making a difference in the rail industry. The magazine defines a rising star who is making a positive impact on his company, department or team and is viewed by others – peers, colleagues, supervisors, clients or associates – as an up and coming leader. He is going to be celebrated at a recognition dinner this summer in St. Louis.
But more importantly, he’s about to see guests come aboard Brightline, the nation’s first new, privately financed passenger train service in more than a century.
“It’s been such a gift to see this from the ground up,” says Lefevre, who’s been working with the new rail service for four years. “I have learned an incredible amount and it’s not anything I would have expected to have done.”
Lefevre grew up in Philadelphia, played with toy trains as a kid and commuted on passenger trains to high school. With trains a daily part of his life, they were in his thoughts as he headed off to Duke University.
In college, he majored in public policy, joined the student government and eventually became student body president. But he also kept thinking about the railroad business.
“A railroad is the only place where you can own the infrastructure. You can own the equipment. You have the real estate underlying the infrastructure. You have all of the employees. It’s like running a city. That was so interesting to me,” he says.
After graduating, Lefevre moved to Jacksonville for a job with freight rail company CSX. When he heard about plans to start up Brightline, the attraction was overwhelming.
“If you are interested in railroads and you don’t live in 1890, it’s very hard to find anybody who is building a new railroad,” Lefevre says. “This is a dream for me.”
He moved to Miami, joining a small team of people looking to improve Florida transportation via train travel and hungry for ideas.
At Brightline, Lefevre quickly gained a reputation as a jack-of-all-trades. If the company needed something on the operations side, he was there.
Among his accomplishments was working on the environmental impact statement, needed for approval for train service between West Palm Beach and Orlando (a statement for Miami to West Palm Beach had already been approved). Lefevre was involved in outreach and displayed tact and sensitivity to community needs in public presentations.
He later used his people skills in helping Brightline get approvals for 182 improved grade crossings (where roads meet the tracks).
Now in the role of director of Brightline’s Operations Control Center, a 24-hour staffed hub for railroad and guest service coordination, Lefevre wrote standard operating procedures and designed the communication plans – working with his colleagues across the Brightline organization.
When passenger train service starts up in late summer between the new West Palm Beach train station and downtown Miami, with a stop at the new Fort Lauderdale train station, Lefevre’s team will be monitoring the corridor.
They are already ramping up, with tests underway for the first state-of-the-art train, BrightBlue.
“There is already a manifest of who is operating the test train that morning, who is on duty to support the train movement and any operational challenges,” LeFevre says. The operations team is using these early calls as a dry-run of the coordination meetings they will have every day when Brightline is in service.
Brightline’s Operations Control Center will be located in a glass-enclosed office at Brightline’s soon-to-open new headquarters, next to the new Miami train station, at 3 MiamiCentral. The center will be equipped with dispatch screens, radios, GPS train tracking and other high tech systems. A team of five will work in shifts with Lefevre on 24-hour call. “I’m looking forward to it,” he says.
Brightline’s introductory express train service will begin between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in late July, followed by service to Miami in late August. The company is anticipating a grand opening and official launch of the train service in September.