Branson’s Virgin Group takes stake in Florida commuter rail company Brightline

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has taken a minority interest in Brightline, a privately owned and operated commuter train service in Florida. ( Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Patrickhamiltonbrightline )

Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group that has dabbled in hundreds of businesses over the years, can now add U.S. commuter train operator to his portfolio.

The Virgin Group has taken a minority interest in Florida’s Brightline, a privately owned, commuter rail serving passengers traveling between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Expansion plans include adding service to Orlando and Tampa as well as possibly down the Treasure Coast area to Jacksonville, the Sun Sentinel reported.

Brightline has also announced plans to build an intercity passenger rail system to connect Las Vegas to Southern California. It launched its current services in May 2018.

Brightline will continue to be operated by its current management and funds managed by an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group will retain majority ownership. The company will be renamed Virgin Trains USA this month and all branding – including train cars and stations – will change to the new name in 2019.

“This partnership further validates the incredible accomplishments of our team as we challenge conventional wisdom to reinvent train travel in America,” said Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline. “Given our shared values and Virgin’s track record, this partnership will help amplify our efforts and growth potential as we seek to expand to new markets.”

A press release announcing the partnership alludes to potential to leverage Virgin’s other businesses, including its Virgin Atlantic airline, Virgin Hotels and Virgin Voyages, to benefit travelers.

“We have had a lot of fun and success creating innovative transport businesses that shake up markets and establish loyal followings. We transformed domestic air travel with Virgin America.  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 Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin.  “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.”

Virgin Group has operated a high-speed passenger rail business in the UK for 21 years. Last year, Virgin Trains transported more than 38 million passengers, the company said.

“Our private sector-led effort to reinvent passenger rail service in America is taking another leap forward with the addition of the Virgin team,” said Wes Edens, chairman of Brightline and co-founder of Fortress Investment Group. “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.”

Late last year, Branson invested in a hyperloop development company. Hyperloop One rebranded to Virgin Hyperloop following the Virgin Group’s investment. 

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.