TAMPA, Fla. — Brightline got approval from Florida officials Wednesday to take the next step toward a Tampa-Orlando service to its existing near-high-speed rail line.

Florida Department of Transportation and Central Florida Expressway Authority gave Brightline the right to negotiate right-of-way leases with the two agencies.

Brightline is looking to get access to land along the I-4 corridor for the rail line, including along State Road 528 west of Orlando International Airport, then down State Road 417's median before connecting with I-4 and heading down to a proposed station in downtown Tampa, using the highway's median.

Alternative routes would have the train running in the area of Osceola Parkway and connecting I-4 further east. 

While the right to negotiate the rights of way is a big step for Brightline, it is by no means a done deal. Brightline now has to get approvals from both agencies to use the land, which will require safeguards that the public will not have to deal with additional costs if Brightline is not able to live up to its agreement. 

The agency would also need to get approval from the Federal Railway Administration. And it still needs to acquire any necessary station locations. 

The main Orlando station would be at OIA, with a Tampa station somewhere downtown. There are also proposals for a station in Lakeland, and an intermediate station in the area of where State Road 417 connects with I-4. Brightline says it is negotiating with the existing property owners of that land.

Brightline currently runs a service in South Florida, and is building a near-high-speed rail service between Miami and Orlando, which is expected to open in 2021. The train will run at top speeds of about 135 mph, taking a little over 3 hours to get between Orlando and Miami.

It's called "near high speed," because the trains run a little slower than the 155 mph sustained speed generally considered "high speed."

Brightline, a private company, recently entered into a partnership with Virgin, and will become part of the Virgin Trains USA label in 2019.