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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Virgin Trains gets OK for more bond sales NEWSWIRE

Virgin Trains gets OK for more bond sales NEWSWIRE

By Bob Johnston | April 8, 2019

Details on Orlando service include possible use of DMUs to reach Disney World, Sun Rail station

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As the rebranding of Brightline to Virgin Trains USA begins in earnest, the company has received approval for more bond sales to finance its expansion.
Bob Johnston
Retired Brightline executive Gene Skoropowski, who has long worked to bring improved rail service to Florida, found last week’s events to be “exciting.”
Bob Johnston

ORLANDO — Virgin Trains USA has received approval for its next round of bond sales to finance its expansion to the Orlando area, while indicating more of its plans for service in that area.

Friday’s approval by the Florida Development Finance Corporation board of directors means the state authority will be the conduit to sell another $950 million in private activity bonds.

That decision came a day after Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson formally began the company’s transition from Brightline to Virgin Trains USA, participating in the event rebranding the company’s MiamiCentral station [see “Virgin Group’s Branson highlights MiamiCentral rebranding,” Trains News Wire, April 5, 2019]. At that event, Virgin officials revealed that service to both Walt Disney World and SunRail’s Meadow Wood station south of downtown would begin at the same time as service between Miami and Orlando International Airport. Following the hearing, a project manager told a Trains News Wire source that Diesel Multiple Unit shuttles would likely be used to make those connections.

Not all of the route engineering has been finalized, so it is unclear whether mainline trains to Tampa will also make the Disney and SunRail stops when the company begins Orlando-Tampa service.

Building tracks to Tampa, using the median of Interstate 4, won’t begin until conclusion of the construction to bring Virgin Trains service to the Orlando Airport. That will require 128.5 miles of Florida East Coast right-of-way north of West Palm Beach to Cocoa, Fla., to be upgraded to 110-mph operations with double track, as well as quad gates and automobile presence detectors at highway crossings. The work also includes a 125-mph sealed corridor between Cocoa and the airport. Construction is expected to begin within months and take about three years.

The 3 to 0 vote approving the bond sale followed more than two hours of comments. Supporters in attendance included former U.S. Rep. John Mica; detractors from Indian River County argued the project is not financially viable, but their concerns were undercut by the sale of $1.75 billion in private activity bonds just before Branson’s visit [see “Virgin Trains USA raises $1.75 billion in bond sale,” Trains News Wire, April 4, 2019].

The financing was especially gratifying for retired Brightline executive Gene Skoropowski. As the company’s senior vice president of railroad operations, he was the principal architect of the Brightline service. He was also instrumental in planning the Florida Overland Express high speed network decades ago before it was cancelled by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

“It was a very exciting week!” Skoropowski tells Trains News Wire. “Finally, after many ill-fated attempts, Florida will have a modern, frequent, and reliable intercity passenger rail service. I have been awaiting this day since I started my intercity passenger rail work in Florida in 1994.”

9 thoughts on “Virgin Trains gets OK for more bond sales NEWSWIRE

  1. John Mica has always supported this project since its inception. It helps that the project benefits his old district in Orlando, but it’s probably more the fact that it is privately funded that really got him on board at first. He isn’t anti rail transportation, he is against wasteful spending of tax dollars on rail projects. Reference the CA HSR and that hot mess of consultants and contractors that went wild with barely any oversight by the state of CA. That is what he is against.

    With Disney now publicly on board, there will be minimal support in Tally for any new regulations aimed at Virgin by the Treasure Coast legislators. Brightline has always had bipartisan support here in Florida. The support that was announced by the Disney company during Friday’s meeting is a significant development.

  2. Huh, seems like there weren’t enough consultants hired to get this project to 1 F35 bucks/mile. What’s wrong with these guys?!

  3. @John, Brightline/Virgin is the exact opposite of CA HSR… Maybe because its private $$$ at risk here? Hmm what a concept!

  4. Why is it taxpayer support in aviation & hwys is viewed as an investment yet taxpayer support of passenger rail is called a subsidy????????

  5. Crazy idea, why not use this line to haul Air Cargo between Orlando and Miami. Essentially for the overnite.

  6. @Ian Narita: The line between Cocoa and Orlando will be used for freight movements at night to/from Port Canaveral. FEC will pay Virgin Trains for the right to use their ROW to do this. There was talk, though I haven’t seen anything substantial on it, that there is a space in the passenger cars for express items. This would be for UPS/FedEx/USPS/Amazon.

  7. OOCEA (Beachline Tollway) had already started reconstructing their ramps to allow the Virgin Trains ROW to pass through after the contract was signed in 2016. There are still some contractual requirements with the Mormon Church that have to be met still as they own most of the land between Orlando and Cocoa. (they own Deseret Ranch). The Mormons are going to partner with Virgin on some new developments as part of the land purchase.

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