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Virgin territory: Sir Richard Branson plants flag in area

The flamboyant entrepreneur throws money at new passenger rail service in Florida.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. December 7, 2018
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The prospects for passenger rail along the Interstate 4 corridor recently received a nice nudge, from colorful billionaire Sir Richard Branson.

The founder of Virgin Airlines and myriad other companies under the Virgin Group umbrella, Branson acquired a stake in Miami-based Brightline. That's the privately held rail transportation company planning to create service between Tampa and Orlando, projected to cost about $1.7 billion.

Branson’s investment has been characterized as a minority stake — but it must have been a sizable chunk of change, because Brightline will change its name to Virgin Trains USA as a result of the deal.

Brightline already operates rail service linking Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. It also plans to create a new intercity passenger line between Las Vegas and southern California, the release states.

“Our private sector-led effort to reinvent passenger rail service in America is taking another leap forward with the addition of the Virgin team,” Brightline chairman Wes Edens states in the release.

Branson and Virgin Group are no strangers to passenger rail transportation, having operated high-speed intercity service in the United Kingdom for more than two decades. Ever the disruptor, Branson clearly relishes the opportunity to plant the Virgin Trains flag in not only the Tampa Bay area, but across the United States, revealing in the release that he’s been on the prowl for such an opportunity for more than a decade.

“We have had a lot of fun and success creating innovative transport businesses that shake up markets and establish loyal followings,” Branson states in the release. “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.”

(This story has been updated to clarify that the planned Orlando-to-Tampa line will not necessarily be light rail.) 


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