By: Beatrice Silva
2 min read August 2020 — Brightline is passing on Virgin Trains. On Aug. 7, the high-speed passenger train operator announced that it would not be rebranded as Virgin Trains USA and would continue its operations under Brightline LLC. The withdrawal represents a sudden and apparently astringent end to the link between Brightline and Virgin Group.
Brightline originally announced its strategic partnership with billionaire Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, two years ago. Brightline quickly welcomed this new partnership and underwent a complete makeover. Virgin Trains USA was officially supposed to debut its rebranding transformation this summer. However, COVID-19 related issues looks to have stopped the deal dead in its tracks.
Originally, the relationship seemed like a match made in transit heaven. Branson and his team have carved out a successful enterprise in the transportation and hospitality industry with a fleet of carriers ranging from airplanes to cruise ships. “It’s already a very good experience,” Branson told the South Florida Business Journal in 2019. “We just need to sprinkle a bit of magic dust over it. We need to make sure the two hours, 45 minutes to Orlando is magical, and we are used to doing that in the UK, where we have longer train journeys.”
Unfortunately, that seamless experience of having guests fly in on Virgin Atlantic then transported on a Virgin Train to their Virgin Voyage will have to be postponed. Branson’s lucrative business, like many others in the hospitality industry, came to a halt as a result of the pandemic. To make matters worse, Brighline’s 2019 passenger count was less than half what it projected and its revenue was less than a fifth of its expectations, according to The Palm Beach Post. The future of Virgin Atlantic Airways remains uncertain after the airline filed Chapter 15 bankruptcy earlier this week.
Brightline, however, seems to be moving along. Its current routes consist of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Progress also continues to be made on its fourth station in Florida at the Orlando International Airport. Operations are scheduled to begin sometime in 2022. There has also been talk of building additional stations in Aventura and Boca Raton.
The Miami-Dade County Commission was negotiating terms regarding proposed stations with Virgin Trains USA but it’s unclear whether the county will agree to a new county commuter service. “We really need to think about what is the future of transit and how people will get around this town…” Mayor Carlos Gimenez told The Real Deal in June. “We may have as many of 20 to 30 percent of people working out of their homes.” How Brightline’s withdrawal from its Virgin deal will impact the commission’s decision remains unknown.
Although the future of the Brightline expansion may be up in the air, if more stations do pop up it could leave a positive impact on the local economy. Brightline’s expansion could bring over 5,000 jobs on average per year after rail-line construction is complete through 2021 and have a $6.4 billion direct economic impact to Florida’s economy over the next eight years, according to Washington Economics Group, Inc.