What’s in a name?
For Brightline, not longevity.
On Friday Brightline, the intercity passenger rail service that established service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in May, announced a strategic partnership with Virgin Group, the entertainment-transportation-mobile-phone giant conceived in 1970 by Richard Branson.
The partnership means the privately funded Brightline will rename itself Virgin Trains USA later this month and transition to Virgin Trains USA branding sometime in 2019, leveraging Virgin’s global name recognition.
“Our private sector-led effort to reinvent passenger rail service in America is taking another leap forward with the addition of the Virgin team,” Wes Edens, chairman of Brightline, said in a release. “Virgin has built a respected and trusted brand in travel and hospitality. With our shared focus on customer experience, powered by a culture of innovation and disruption, we are well positioned to build on our success.”
Brightline’s current management team, which includes President Patrick Goddard and Edens, a co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, will still oversee daily operations, engineering, business development and strategy.
The amount of Virgin’s minority investment in Brightline has not been released. The money will be managed by Brightline’s executive team and affiliates of Fortress Investment Group.
Said Branson: “Brightline is at the forefront of innovation in this market, and the ideal partner for Virgin to work with to alter perceptions and traveling habits across the United States.”
On Friday, Brightline also filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to become a publicly traded company.
Service from West Palm to Orlando is under development, as well as a goal to expand into Tampa.
Brightline has hit some rough spots since trial runs began in 2017. Seven people have been killed on its tracks but the Brightline trains were not cited and more than half of the fatalities were ruled as suicides.
About 75,000 total passengers rode the service and $663,667 in ticket revenue was collected in Brightline’s first quarter.
“Our model is based on city pairs that are ‘too short to fly and too long to drive,’ making passenger rail a viable alternative,” Goddard told the Miami Herald in September. “There are approximately 400 million trips between Orlando and South Florida, and we need to capture a small percentage.”
In September, Brightline announced plans to build an intercity passenger rail system to connect Las Vegas to Southern California by taking up construction of XpressWest, a long-troubled rail project. Pending federal approvals, the construction would proceed in 2019, according to the Brightline-Virgin release.
Virgin Group has run Virgin Trains in the UK for 21 years and, according to the company, passengers took 38 million trips on the UK’s West Coast Main Line.
“Tens of millions of Americans travel on the railways every day, and we have tried for over a decade to find an opportunity to provide them with that same excellent service experience,” said Branson.