ORLANDO, Fla. — Work on a new $2 billion high speed rail project linking Orlando to South Florida could begin as soon as next month.
- Brightline plans to begin construction in the next 30 to 45 days
- Rail system expanding from Miami to Orlando, Tampa
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Brightline, soon to be called Virgin Trains USA, wants to run high speed rail service from Orlando International Airport to a hub in West Palm Beach, which is already in service with a line extending to downtown Miami.
Ben Porrit, senior vice president of Virgin Trains USA, says construction work is expected to begin on the Orlando extension in the next 30 to 45 days.
“We will, over a period of time, have about 43 different locations where construction will take place over the corridor,” Porritt said.
Virgin’s primary Orlando station will be at the new intermodal station at OIA, with the rail line running east, parallel to State Road 528, until Cocoa, where the line will turn south straight to West Palm Beach.
The trains are expected to keep a pace of upwards of 125 miles per hour during parts of the trek, getting people from Orlando to Miami in about three hours.
The Orlando route is anticipated to open by the year 2022.
Virgin is also eyeing possible future stops elsewhere, including Walt Disney World, although Porritt says a deal is far from done.
“We’ve had a lot of productive conversations with Disney, we’ve been exploring stations at Disney, as well as negotiating with the state for Tampa, we’re looking at the Space Coast, and Treasure Coast, all of these stations are something we’re exploring and something we’re continuing to talk about,” Porritt said.
Disney has forwarded past inquiries to Virgin for comment. On Friday, during a hearing where Virgin was seeking approval to sell an additional $250 million in private bonds, a Disney representative said the company is fully behind Virgin’s efforts.
The FDFC oversees part of Virgin’s financing abilities for the Central Florida expansion.
The FDFC board granted Virgin’s request to sell $250 million in tax-free private activity bonds, just days after the company announced it had sold $1.7 billion in previous bonds to help finance the project.
“These bonds are financed by private investors…this is billions of dollars being invested in the state that aren’t coming from the federal government, aren’t coming from the state government, and aren’t coming from local government, and it’s creating a lot of economic support,” Porritt said.
The company is promising to create thousands of direct and indirect jobs from the project, as well as creating billions of dollars in economic impact for Florida.
Virgin has faced its fair share of critics in the past, some of whom attended Friday’s hearing.
Several people from Indian River County say they are still concerned about trains running at high speeds through downtown areas, as well as the financial security of the project.
“We’ve had a record revenue in March, we had a record ridership in March, we had record repeat riders in the month of March, we are trending exactly the way we thought we would,” Porritt said. “People are paying attention to this project, people are using this service, it’s improving every month on the scale of ridership. What I think is people are changing their habits, and we’re seeing it every day in South Florida.”