Posts Tagged ‘Virgin Trains USA’

Brightline Wants to Sever Ties With Virgin

August 12, 2020

Florida-based Brightline plans to sever its ties with Virgin Enterprises and continue operating under its original name.

Brightline had been moving toward operating under the Virgin Trains USA brand after reaching a licensing agreement with Virgin, which is overseen by Richard Branson.

Branson told Forbes magazine earlier this year that Virgin had not yet invested in Brightline but was interested in doing so.

News reports indicated that Virgin plans to contest the termination of the marketing agreement it has with Brightline Trains LLC.

In a statement, Brightline was quoted by Forbes as saying, “Virgin has no remaining affiliation with us, our parent or its affiliate.”

Brightline reportedly issued its notice to terminate the marketing agreement with Virgin on July 29.

Virgin also operates Virgin Atlantic Airlines, which sought bankruptcy protection last week.

Brightline had operated intercity rail passenger between Miami and West Palm Beach.

Those operations were suspended in March due to plunging ridership prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virgin Completes Laying Track at Orlando Airport

July 24, 2020

Virgin Trains USA has completed laying track at its terminal at the Orlando International Airport.

The project is part of a 170-mile extension from the current northern terminus on the service, formerly known as Brightline, at West Palm Beach, Florida.

The intercity carrier said it has laid 3.5 miles of track at the airport. That work was done in tandem with construction and remodeling that included a revision of the airport’s main entrance and a new south terminal.

Nevada County Advances Plans for Las Vegas Route

July 23, 2020

The commissioners of Clark Clark, Nevada, have approved the findings of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry related to the financing of the project being proposed by DesertXpress Enterprises.

The latter, which is has proposed building a high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California, is a division of Virgin Trains USA.

The action by the commissioners will advance financing of the project.

Virgin last year applied to the Nevada Department of Business and Industry for the right to sell $200 million worth of private activity bonds. With the commission’s approval, the rail company can now leverage as much as $1.2 billion for the project.

“We have been working to achieve high-speed rail between Clark County and Southern California for decades and today’s approval marks a significant milestone in that long process,” Commissioner Michael Naft said in statement.

Virgin Gets Extension on Vegas Route Bond Sale

July 3, 2020

The Virgin Trains USA has received a five month extension for its efforts to sell bonds to finance development of a route to Las Vegas.

Virgin subsidiary Desert Xpress Enterprises is seeking to sell $3.25 billion in private activity bonds to help fund the high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California.

The Bond Buyer reported that the California Infrastructure and Economic Bank approved the extension, which Desert Xpress sought because of market turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virgin used similar financing to pay for the extension of its Brightline service to Orlando, which is now under construction.

In a related development, the California Department of Transportation will allow Virgin to build on state-owned right-of-way along Interstate 15 east of Apple Valle near Victorville.

Approximately 135 miles of the planned 170-mile high speed route will be in California.

In a news release, Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin called the agreement “a major milestone.

Florida County to Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

May 26, 2020

A Florida County that has long opposed the efforts of Brightline to build an extension to Orlando is making a last ditch appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Indian River County contends that Virgin Trains USA, which operates the Brightline service, should not be eligible for $2.7 billion of tax-exempt private activity bonds.

The bonds are being used to finance construction of the Orlando extension.

The Florida county argues that there is an open question about whether a federal agency can interpret the law and whether courts should defer to that interpretation.

In a legal brief, the county said the matter is “critical to the separation of powers” between agencies and the courts.

Indiana River County has been fighting and losing in the courts for years in its efforts to thwart Brightline.

It’s most recent setback was a federal appeals court ruling that Virgin can use the bonds as intended for expansion.

County officials have approved $200,000 to make one appeal to the Supreme Court.

Brightline Service Suspension Extended

May 21, 2020

The suspension of intercity rail service by Virgin Trains USA in Florida has been extended for several more months.

Virgin, which operates the service  formerly known as Brightline between downtown Miami and West Palm Beach, declined to say when service might resume.

The service was suspended on March 25 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In social media posts, Virgin blamed pandemic work-from-home policies and social distancing mandates for the continuation of its service suspension.

In Twitter and Facebook posts said Virgin expects it will take a long period of time for service demand to return to pre-virus levels.

In the meantime, Virgin has laid off 250 employees including some senior staff.

Virgin said it would continue work on extended its route from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

A public filing last month said service to Orlando is expected to begin in 2022.

Before service was suspended during the pandemic, Virgin trains had seen rising ridership, reaching 271,778, an 11 percent increase year-over-year increase.

Las Vegas Rail Projects Gets OK to Issue Bond

April 21, 2020

A proposed intercity rail service to Las Vegas received approval last week from the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee to issue $600 million in tax-exempt bonds.

XpressWest has proposed creating a high-speed rail route between Las Vegas and Southern California.

Under Internal Revenue Service guidelines ExpressWest would be allowed to sell up to four times the amount of the $600 million in bonding authority, for a total of $2.4 billion in tax-free, private equity bonds.

ExpressWest, which is part of Virgin Trains USA, has estimated the project cost at

$4.8 billion

The route would begin in California at Victorville, although ExpressWest has said it would eventually be extended into Los Angeles.

A groundbreaking ceremony for route is being planned by the end of this year.

The U.S. Department of Transportation approved last month $1 billion in tax-free private bonds for the project.

The bonds are required to be issued by Sept. 30.

ExpressWest also is seeking approval from Nevada officials to issue $200 million in bonds, which would allow the company to market $800 million in bonds toward the project.

In an unrelated development, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has extended the public comment period to April 28 on the draft environmental impact report for the Bakersfield-to-Palmdale section of the high-speed rail system.

In a news release, CHSRA said the extra time will allow stakeholders and the public to review and submit comments on the draft EIR during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CHSRA plans to host a virtual public hearing on the report on April 23. The authority is accepting comments via mail, email, online portal and by phone.

California, Texas Rail Development

April 2, 2020

The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission is soliciting public comment on its proposed Valley Rail Sacramento Extension project.

Plans are to expand Amtrak’s San Joaquins and Altamont Corridor

Express services to the greater Sacramento area through the construction of six rail stations and track improvements along the Union Pacific Railroad’s Sacramento Subdivision.

The expansion would two new San Joaquin roundtrips operating on the Sacramento, Fresno and BNSF Railway Stockton subdivisions, as well as an extension of existing ACE service to the proposed Natomas-Sacramento Airport Station.

Work on the UP would involve construction of new stations in Lodi, south Sacramento, Sacramento City College, Midtown Sacramento, Old North Sacramento, and Natomas/Sacramento Airport.

Three public meetings are tentatively set for April and May while written comments are being accepted via email and mail until May 15.

In other developments, XpressWest said it has taken steps to secure private debt funding for its $4.8 billion plan to build a 170-mile high-speed, electric rail line from Southern California to Las Vegas.

The service would be operated by Virgin Trains USA, which operates the Florida intercity rail service Brightline.

XpressWest officials said if the funding is secured, rail line construction could begin later this year with service launching in 2023.

Texas Central said this week its $20 billion high-speed rail project between Dallas and Houston  is now “shovel ready.”

Officials said construction will begin once global financial markets have stabilized and the federal approvals process is complete.

“Our immediate next step is to continue working with our partner organizations and federal and state agencies, led by the Federal Railroad Administration, to finalize our permits,” said Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar. “The current schedule we have from the federal government anticipates that will happen by July 31.”

Aguilar acknowledged there is a chance the project will not proceed on schedule.

“This is one of those moments where we have to acknowledge how small our world really is,” Aguilar said.

“Our engineering partner is in Italy; our operation partner is in Spain; and our technology provider is in Japan. Our financial partners are in those countries, as well as here in the United States.”

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated things in those countries.

Texas Central said it anticipates its project will create more than 17,000 jobs during construction and have a multi-billion-dollar economic impact across the United States.

In the short term, though, it has laid off nearly 30 employees.

Amtrak Trims More Service, Brightline Suspended

March 26, 2020

Additional Amtrak service reductions have been announced and Florida intercity rail passenger operator Brightline has suspended all service.

The latest Amtrak cancellations include reducing the level of service of Missouri River Runner service effective March 30

The two daily roundtrips between St. Louis and Kansas City will be cut to one with trains leaving Kansas City at 8:15 a.m. and St. Louis at 4 p.m.

The St. Louis-Kansas City corridor was the last in the Midwest to be unaffected by the COVID pandemic-induced service reductions.

Effective today Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has ordered all Amtrak in that state to be suspended.

The Vermonter, which normally operates between Washington and St. Albans, Vermont, will not operate north of New Haven, Connecticut.

On its reduced schedule, the Vermonter will not operate on Sundays.

The Ethan Allen Express, which normally operates between New York and Rutland, Vermont, will not operate north of Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

Scott said he took the action after consulting with Amtrak. He also issued a stay-at-home order for residents of his state and directed the closure of in-person, nonessential businesses in order to minimize unnecessary activities outside of homes.

In Florida, Brightline, which is owned by Virgin Trains USA, laid off 250 of its more than 300 South Florida workers this week.

Brightline said on Wednesday that it was suspending all service in the wake of the pandemic.

The layoffs included Bob O’Malley, vice president of corporate development.

In a statement, Brightline said it hoped to rehire most of its workers once service resumes, but said it could not say when that might be.

A report in the Miami Herald said more than 700 construction workers on a project to extend Brightline track to Orlando remain employed.

Virgin Wins Appeals Court Ruling on Use of Bonds

January 2, 2020

Virgin Trains USA may use private activity bonds to finance a extension of its route to Orlando, Florida, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The decision was issued in late December by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which ruled the U.S. Department of Transportation properly determined that Virgin’s project qualified for private activity bond.

The decision rejected a challenge by Indian River County, Florida. The court ruled that although the county had standing in the case, all of its arguments were without merit.

Among the arguments the court rejected was that bonds can’t be used because they are financing more than highway grade crossing renovations.

The court also turned down Indian River’s contention that the environmental impact statement should have looked more closely at such negative effects as trespassing and noise pollution.

The court noted that Virgin plans to put up fences where trespassing has been shown to have occurred and will place pole-mounted horns at 117 highway crossings between West Palm Beach and Cocoa. That includes 23 grade crossing in Indian River County.

Indian County Administrator Jason Brown said the county may appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court “but we have to evaluate all of our options.”

Virgin plans to upgrade 20 miles of a Florida East Coast Railway line in Vero Beach, including building a second track and upgrading highway grade crossing protections for 110 mph train speeds.