Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains USA deal dies; Brightline name sticks for California and Florida lines

Aug 10, 2020

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Richard Branson’s splash and bravado is no match for the economic realities of the coronavirus pandemic. Adding to the list of woes facing airlines Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, his U.S. rail pact appears dead before it even left the station.

On Aug. 7, Brightline Trains notified investors that its rail lines in California and Florida would not be rebranded Virgin Trains USA, after all. The move, announced by the train company in a monthly revenue and ridership report, comes more than two-years after Branson and Brightline officials announced the new pact that would see the Virgin name return to the U.S. domestic market — albeit on rails rather than in the skies.

While Brightline does not say why it is ending the agreement, the Virgin name comes with a hefty price tag. Prior to Alaska Airlines take over of Virgin America in 2016, the Virgin-branded airline paid as much as $7.7 million in licensing fees to Branson’s Virgin Group annually.

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Brightline operates a 70-mile intercity rail line between Miami and West Palm Beach in South Florida. A 140-mile extension to Orlando International Airport (MCO) is under construction while design and engineering work is underway for new stations in Aventura and Boca Raton.

Planning work on a proposed station on Disney property west of the Orlando airport is underway. If that is built, Brightline would provide visitors to Disney with a one-seat train ride between the theme parks and both the Orlando airport and destinations in South Florida — including a planned station at the PortMiami cruise ship terminal.

Brightline is also discussing a possible extension to Tampa from the proposed Disney station. It is also considering a station at the Fort Lauderdale (FLL) airport, which is adjacent to the route of its trains.

Related: Brightline breaks ground on new line in Florida

Beyond its Florida line, Brightline hopes to break ground on a new 170-mile high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Victorville in Southern California this fall.

The decision to end ties with Branson’s Virgin Group does not affect Brightline’s rail expansion projects. Virgin will have no affiliation or equity investment in the train company following their separation.

Brightline passenger service has been suspended since March due to COVID-19. The firm continues to “monitor the situation and evaluate an appropriate time” to resume regular service.

Related: Virgin Trains USA Plans to Connect Miami and Orlando, and Extend to Disney World

Featured image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

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