A bit more time may be soon be added on to your Virgin train trip — but for a select number of cities, access will now be granted to the fastest train in the south.
In a recent filing, Virgin officials said they plan to announce up to three new stations before the end of the year in an effort to boost ridership. While the company is so far declining to name its new city stops, Hollywood may well be on the list.
A Hollywood official says the city recently met with Virgin Trains USA, formerly known as Brightline, about adding a stop in the Broward hamlet. Hollywood communications manager Joann Hussey said in an interview that a meeting took place in June.
“We’ve identified an area in downtown...that we’re calling University Station that we’re redeveloping, with the thought of having a stop for a commuter rail line,” she said. It is located east of I-95, at Dixie Highway just north of Hollywood Boulevard.
Hollywood — and 15 other communities — are already served by a commuter line: government-funded and run Tri-Rail. Tri-Rail trains run just to the west of I-95, stopping at Hollywood Boulevard just west of I-95.
Virgin is not providing further details on costs or time of travel for the proposed stops. But they would likely be faster, although more expensive, than Tri-Rail.
Tri-Rail service from Hollywood to Miami takes 39 minutes — slower than Virgin’s 30-minute run to more-distant Fort Lauderdale. A round-trip Tri-Rail ticket between Miami and Hollywood currently costs $6.25; at peak hours, a Virgin ticket costs $34 roundtrip for the Fort Lauderdale journey.
In an email, Tri-Rail executive director Steven Abrams said, “We are aware that Virgin is approaching a limited number of cities along their corridor to explore the possibility of stations.”
Virgin representatives say the company expects the new stations “will significantly increase ridership once operational,” and that it would still consider itself an “intercity express train” with the new stops.
For the first quarter of 2019, Virgin announced ridership of 244,178 passengers with revenues of $5.8 million. Virgin has set a goal of approximately 2.1 million passengers and between $50 million and $100 million in revenues in 2019.
Other potential Virgin stops remain unknown. But officials in Boca Raton confirmed in an email that they were a candidate.
“Representatives of Brightline will be coordinating through the office staff to set up meetings in the next two weeks (or as soon as possible) with each of of the City Council members to discuss the potential for a Brightline Station in Boca Raton on the property east of the Downtown library,” the city said.
A representative for the city of Pompano Beach said in an email that while no meeting with Virgin had occurred, it believes it is “an ideal location” for the train, citing recent investments it had made in infrastructure.
The Hollywood and Pompano statements show the eagerness with which some municipalities are now greeting the prospect of a Virgin stop. Martin County north of Palm Beach, which had been strongly opposed to Virgin threading its Orlando extension through its backyard, agreed to a settlement in November that included a promise of at least one new Treasure Coast stop.
Another Treasure Coast county, Indian River, is continuing litigation against Virgin. A new rail safety group, the Florida Alliance for Safe Trains, was created earlier this year to highlight fatalities that have occurred along Florida East Coast tracks since Virgin began operating last year. It is calling for greater safety measures.
The Orlando extension is now fully funded. Last month, Virgin held an official groundbreaking ceremony for the $4 billion project, which will run up existing Florida East Coast tracks in southeastern Florida before turning west along a new set of tracks that stretch across Orange County and into Orlando International Airport, reaching a top speed of 125 miles per hour. It is projected to be completed in 2022.