Brightline leaders wrote in a monthly report released Friday that Virgin is “no longer affiliated with us.”
Less than two years after Brightline announced a “strategic partnership” with Virgin Group and renamed its trains to Virgin Trains USA, the rail service now says its parent company has canceled the deal. .
Brightline leaders wrote in a monthly report released Friday that Virgin is “no longer affiliated with us.” The company will remove Virgin from its branding and will instead be named Brightline Trains LLC, according to the report.
Brightline’s parent company notified Virgin of the termination on July 29, but the report said Virgin disputed the validity of the notice. A Brightline spokesperson did not respond on Saturday about requests for comment.
The cancellation represents an abrupt and obvious end to the relationship between Brightline and Virgin Group, the global business empire led by British eccentric billionaire Richard Branson.
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Brightline has been running premium private passenger trains between Miami and West Palm Beach, with a single stop in Fort Lauderdale, since 2018. The company plans to expand service up the east coast to Cocoa and west to Orlando airport.
It has invested in costly stations in all three cities. More construction is underway with announcements this week about a plan to block traffic in August to install a second set of tracks at key intersections in Jupiter and Riviera Beach.
Opponents, especially on the Treasure Coast, where there are no plans to stop, criticize the expansion, however.
When the partnership was announced in November 2018, Virgin planned to hold a minority stake in Brightline. It is not clear whether it ever invested.
A drastic rebranding effort is also associated with the deal. Brightline’s parent company becomes Virgin Trains USA. The railway service’s complex Miami station is adorned with the famous worldwide Virgin red logo and renamed Virgin Miami Central. A senior vice president at Brightline calls the Virgin brand “icing on the cake.”
Branson even visited West Palm Beach in April 2019 to tout the rebranding and sailing. Branson said at the time that the two entities could “make the (private rail) experience better than anyone ever had in America.”
But by the end of the year, Brightline’s 2019 passenger numbers hit just 1 million – less than half of what it expected in a 2017 document for bond investors. Brightline’s 2019 revenue was $ 22 million, less than a fifth of what it expected in 2017.
The number of passengers so far has risen in 2020 through March – 271,778 from 244,178 in 2019 – and so has total revenue, according to a company report earlier this year. But in late March, Brightline suspended the service amid the coronavirus pandemic. The trips have not yet continued.
Virgin is also facing challenges. This week, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in New York. A Virgin spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
All Aboard Florida, which operates Brightline, is owned by a subsidiary of Fortress Investment Group LLC, a global investment management firm. Fortress is also contracted to manage and advise New Media Investments Inc., which owns Gannett, the parent company of The Palm Beach Post.