Sir Richard Branson is extending his rail empire across the Atlantic. Virgin Group has announced that it will take a minority share in Brightline, a start-up train operator in Florida.
Brightline launched express services earlier this year from Miami via Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach, with an extension to Orlando under construction and plans for a line to Tampa. It also intends to build a link between Las Vegas and southern California.
The train operator is to be renamed Virgin Trains USA this month, with rebranding taking place in 2019.
In his blog, Sir Richard wrote: “We have a long history of creating innovative businesses that shake up markets and establish loyal followings.
“We transformed domestic air travel with Virgin America and have spent more than a decade looking for a similar opportunity to change the face of American railways.
“Rail is a sector close to my heart after 21 years of running Virgin Trains in the UK.”
The Brightline routes, both current and planned, fit well with Virgin Atlantic’s flight network – which includes Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
The train operator said: “The partnership will allow Brightline to leverage Virgin's industry-leading expertise and customer experience.”
Brightline’s launch was delayed, and its first three months were marred by tragedy – with four people killed by trains when they tried to cross the tracks illegally.
The train currently runs hourly, taking about half-an-hour between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and another 45 minutes to reach West Palm Beach – close to President Trump’s “Florida White House,” his Mar-a-Lago property.
In June, Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC), which was 90 per cent owned by Stagecoach Group, was replaced on the UK’s flagship route from London to Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
A state-run operator, LNER, took over after VTEC’s ambitious passenger and revenue forecasts failed to materialise.
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