For some time, Brightline has been establishing itself as a provider of privately owned Intercity services in Florida. It seems this has taken the interest of the Virgin Group, who are partnering with Fortress Investment Group to bring Virgin Trains USA.
Brightline will transition from its current branding to Virgin Trains USA during 2019 as part of a strategic partnership and trademark licencing agreement with the Virgin Group.
Brightline currently links Miami Central, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with plans to link to Orlando International Airport and Tampa, using Siemens Charger locomotives with four passenger cars attached. Once the Orlando connection is completed, it is planned the trains will be lengthened to 7 coaches each.
Currently, 10 train sets are in service.
Wes Edens, chairman of Brightline and co-founder of Fortress Investment Group states
“Our private sector-led effort to reinvent passenger rail service in America is taking another leap forward with the addition of the Virgin team,”
“Virgin has built a respected and trusted brand in travel and hospitality. With our shared focus on customer experience, powered by a culture of innovation and disruption, we are well positioned to build on our success.”
Richard Branson Chairman of the Virgin Group states
“We have had a lot of fun and success creating innovative transport businesses that shake up markets and establish loyal followings. We transformed domestic air travel with Virgin America. Tens of millions of Americans travel on the railways every day, and we have tried for over a decade to find an opportunity to provide them with that same excellent service experience. Brightline is at the forefront of innovation in this market, and the ideal partner for Virgin to work with to alter perceptions and traveling habits across the United States.”
Virgin Trains USA will be made up of a minority investment by Virgin Group, whilst Brightline will be managed and operated by Brightline’s executive team and affiliates of Fortress Investment Group.
As well as the Florida train service, Brightline is planning to it commence construction next year to connect Las Vegas to Southern California after taking over planned XpressWest link programme.
Virgin Group is no stranger to rail operations – most of you know that Virgin Trains currently operates the UK West Coast Rail Franchise (which it has done successfully for 21 years with Stagecoach)). The Group also ran the CrossCountry franchise for 8 years, and for a short period, operated the East Coast Rail Franchise with Stagecoach (until it handed back the running of the operation to the UK government earlier this year)
The move by Virgin Group into rail in the USA is an interesting one. Brightline’s programme so far has been limited – but has offered interest to those who don’t want to use cars between Miami and Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, covering the distance in three hours (versus four hours in a car).
Whilst it could encourage a modal shift from car to train, there are potential tie ups within the Virgin Group too (be it through Holidays, Virgin Atlantic, hotels, etc) which could add revenue.
For a railway like this, Virgin’s money will be welcome. What it does with that money next will be what to watch out for.
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