Brightline, a private rail project that would connect Central to South Florida, has cleared a critical federal hurdle and can begin construction to Orlando, it says.

The company said Friday it has received the final U.S. Department of Transportation environmental approval it needed to proceed with construction north of West Palm Beach — work that will connect Orlando to the system.

“This is the most critical and final step in the extension of Brightline’s service to Orlando, and we are excited to move forward with Phase 2,” Brightline CEO Dave Howard said in a news release.

The company expects to move forward with Phase 1 — opening service between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach — and start work on Phase 2, its expansion to Orlando, in early 2018.

Trains are supposed to reach speeds of 125 mph and can carry hundreds of passengers.

Brightline's station in Orlando will be at Orlando International Airport's new Intermodal Terminal Facility, which is connected to OIA's North Terminal by a new tram, it said. SunRail also plans a future expansion to the airport's ITF.

Brightline is the only privately owned and operated passenger rail system in the country, it says.