Advertisement
  1. Archive

Brightline-Virgin rail service from Tampa to Orlando has estimated cost of $1.7 billion

A Brightline train heading from West Palm Beach to Miami pulls in at the station in Fort Lauderdale. [RICHARD DANIELSON | Times]
Published Nov. 20, 2018

TAMPA — Leave it to the arrival of a visionary investor like Sir Richard Branson to help flesh out the vision for Brightline's proposed Tampa-to-Orlando passenger train service.

On Friday, Miami-based Brightline announced that Branson's Virgin Group had taken a minority stake in the company, and that Brightline will change its name to Virgin Trains USA.

That day, Virgin Trains USA filed notice of a common stock offering with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission giving more detail for Brightline's proposed Tampa expansion.

The company hopes to launch rail service along the Interstate 4 corridor from Tampa to Orlando in 2021 and it expects ridership to take two years to ramp up.

Travel time between the two cities is projected to be an hour — Virgin's trains will have a top speed of 125 mph — compared with 90 minutes by car and 2 hours and 5 minutes for Amtrak's Silver Star. The trains feature leather seats, food and beverage service and free high-speed WiFi. Virgin projects it can hit these goals by capturing about 2 percent of the travel market between Miami and Tampa, considerably less than the 10 to 30 percent market share held by established rail service like Acela in the northeastern U.S. or Italo in Italy.

"We believe our passenger rail system offers travel that is faster, safer, more eco-friendly, more reliable, less expensive, more productive and more enjoyable than travel by car or air," Virgin said in the SEC filing. (Virgin is not Brightline's only well-known investor. This summer, a new financial disclosure form reported that Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his wife Ann had invested at least $3 million in a credit fund for Brightline's parent company.)

Creating the Tampa-to-Orlando service has an estimated cost of $1.7 billion. Virgin projects 2.9 million passengers a year as a result of expanding its system from Orlando west to Tampa, with an estimated average round-trip ticket price of $73 — more than $100 less than the average Acela fare of $174. That would generate nearly $212 million a year in ticket revenue. Virgin expects food and beverage sales, parking, naming rights, sponsorships and partnerships, merchandise, advertising and other fees to equal about 14 percent of total revenues, or about $12 per passenger.

Virgin anticipates a Tampa terminal somewhere in or near downtown Tampa with "adjacent real estate for commercial development." Brightline's business model combines using rail to connect cities with traffic and congestion, and developing real estate around its terminals to cater to businesses and residents drawn to the alternative that rail provides in a dense urban environment. In the Overtown area near downtown Miami, its terminal is at the heart of a 1.6 million-square-foot privately financed development that includes two office towers, two apartment towers, 130,000 square feet of stores and restaurants.

But in Tampa, Virgin said, "we have not yet acquired all real property interests necessary for the Tampa Expansion," adding that some "must be acquired from private parties."

Of the Tampa sites that Brightline is known to have scouted, the old Morgan Street jail site is owned by the state of Florida, Tampa Union Station is owned by the city of Tampa, the Tampa Park Apartments are owned by a nonprofit group headed by Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper publisher S. Kay Andrews and the GasWorx property, near the proposed Ybor City site of a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium, is owned by investor Darryl Shaw.

Virgin also said it expects to contract with "municipal and private parties to purchase, lease or otherwise obtain the right to use land for the construction and operation of the Tampa expansion."

First, however, the Florida Department of Transportation has to consider Brightline's proposal — the only bid received in response to a state request for proposals — to create and run the service. That decision is scheduled for Nov. 28.

MORE: Go here for more Business News

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Booked on Friday on probation violation charges, 61-year-old Gerald Souders died on Saturday.
  2. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Troopers say the 28-year-old driver was involved in two minor accidents before causing the crash that killed a Largo man.
  3. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    University police say a 25-year-old grad student enrolled at the University of Florida fell to her death Friday afternoon from near the top of the 8-story parking facility.
  4. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    University police say a woman fell to her death Friday afternoon from near the top of the 8-story parking facility.
  5. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said the man suffered upper body trauma. His death is now being investigated.
  6. The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating a three-vehicle crash that took place in Palm Harbor along Tampa Road just west of Lake St. George Drive. A 43-year-old woman was killed in the crash. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    A 43-year-old woman died from her injuries. The cause of the crash is still being investigated by the Florida Highway Patrol.
  7. Kathryn Norris , 57, died in 2009 inside her Chevrolet Nova. It took authorities almost 16 months to find her. How could a woman go missing inside her own home? Florida Today
    Kathryn Norris disappeared long before she died.
  8. Tampa firefighter Tanja Vidovic steps out of the federal courthouse in Tampa in during the 2017 federal trial of her sexual discrimination case against the city of Tampa. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON   |   Times]
    Tanja Vidovic will run against incumbent Joe Ayoub in the city’s March 2020 elections.
  9. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    James Busch, 53, is in “extremely critical condition" after he shot himself in the head, then was shot twice in the arms by a responding deputy.
  10. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    Scott J. Johnson, 50, was driving north near the Anclote toll plaza when he crashed into a steel post and died at the scene.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement