US Passenger Train Service Cuts Ties With Virgin Group

The privately-run Florida passenger train service Brightline announced in its monthly report on August 7 that it has entirely ended its affiliation with the Virgin Group and will cease its rebranding to Virgin Trains USA, the Associated Press reported.

“Virgin no longer has any affiliation with us, our parents or its affiliate,“ Brightline stated in its report, but refrained from offering any details about what led to this decision.

The partnership formed less than two years ago between Brightline and English entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which has been working to increase its U.S. holdings by recently launching a cruise line, Virgin Voyages, and expanding Virgin Hotels. A partnership with Brightline’s higher-speed train service would have given Virgin a toehold in the U.S. passenger rail market.

For Brightline, the first company to introduce a new, private passenger rail service in a century, its association with the Virgin brand promised instant international recognition and was to include a minor, undisclosed investment from Branson. Reportedly, Forbes found in June that Brightline never saw that money.

Brightline—which connects Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with a future Orlando expansion in the works—has had to suspend operations since March, due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, the company has continued laying down the 170 miles of track for its expansion into Orlando and sustaining construction on the city’s new train station.

There is currently no set date for the Orlando opening or for resuming rail operations, in light of America’s evolving COVID-19 situation. Outside of its Florida operations, Brightline is also working on a rail line that would connect Southern California straight to Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, the Virgin Group has suffered a few other setbacks as of late. Virgin Atlantic filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. on August 4 after having already announced its restructuring plan in the U.K. in July. Its sister airline, Virgin Australia, likewise collapsed into administration in Australia while seeking economic aid back on April 21. Virgin Trains UK, the United Kingdom’s longest-running rail franchise discontinued its service in December 2019 after 22 years.

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