Brightline/Virgin Trains secures approval to raise funds for Orlando extension

Virgin Trains USA has received approval to raise the funds it needs to build a 170-mile route connecting West Palm Beach to Orlando.

The Florida Development Finance Corp. on Friday approved the issuance of up to $950 million in new private activity bonds for the privately owned South Florida express rail line, formerly known as Brightline, to pay for phase two of its expansion plan to Orlando.

Service to Central Florida is expected to begin in 2022.

“We appreciate the work of the FDFC board and staff,” Virgin spokesman Ben Porritt said in a statement. “Virgin Trains will be a transformative project that will help Florida stay economically competitive while bringing thousands of jobs and tremendous economic impact to the state. We have seen incredible support for this project and are confident it will bring a necessary public benefit to the millions of Florida residents and visitors.”

The bonds allow developers to borrow at a more favorable rate. Only bondholders, not taxpayers, would be affected if the company defaulted.

Less than a year after launching in Miami as Brightline, the company has forgone plans for an initial public offering (IPO), reported ridership levels that remain lower than were projected, and continues to operate at a loss.

On Thursday, it officially kicked off its rebranding as Virgin Trains with an appearance by Virgin’s founder, Sir Richard Branson.

Virgin is currently in discussions with Disney about a station that would be on the theme park’s property and serve airport passengers and South Florida visitors. The rail company will also add its own station to a $682 million inter-modal site that was recently completed at Orlando International Airport.

Brightline has plans to bring its service to Jacksonville and Tampa and to add stops at PortMiami and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.