Branson buys into BrightlineWritten by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
Florida’s Brightline private higher-speed passenger rail service has a new investor, Virgin Group, headed by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson. Virgin Group will make a minority investment in Brightline, which will be managed and operated by Brightline’s executive team and affiliates of Brightline parent Fortress Investment Group. Brightline will rename itself Virgin Trains USA in November and transition to Virgin Trains USA branding in 2019, “leveraging the Virgin brand and marketing expertise for existing and future developments.”
The trademark licensing agreement with Virgin Group “will allow Brightline to leverage Virgin’s industry-leading expertise and customer experience to establish a powerful new brand, ‘Virgin Trains USA,’ Brightline said, noting that Virgin Group “has more than 60 companies focused on its core consumer sectors of travel and leisure, telecoms and media, music and entertainment, financial services and health and wellness. The partnership could help to provide access to millions of customers with the potential for increased ridership from other Virgin-branded travel and hospitality businesses, including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Hotels and Virgin Voyages.”
Virgin Group “has significant experience operating in the UK rail sector, including its ongoing investment in Virgin Trains, a high-speed intercity passenger rail system it has run for 21 years,” Brightline said. “Last year passengers took more than 38 million trips on the UK’s West Coast Main Line.”
As part of the partnership, an affiliate of Virgin Group has agreed, subject to certain closing conditions, to make a minority investment in Brightline. Funds managed by an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group LLC will retain majority ownership of Brightline. Brightline’s current management team will oversee daily operations, engineering, business development and strategy.
“Our private sector-led effort to reinvent passenger rail service in America is taking another leap forward with the addition of the Virgin team,” said Wes Edens, Chairman of Brightline and co-founder of Fortress Investment Group. “Virgin has built a respected and trusted brand in travel and hospitality. With our shared focus on customer experience, powered by a culture of innovation and disruption, we are well positioned to build on our success.”
“We have had a lot of fun and success creating innovative transport businesses that shake up markets and establish loyal followings. We transformed domestic air travel with Virgin America. Tens of millions of Americans travel on the railways every day, and we have tried for over a decade to find an opportunity to provide them with that same excellent service experience,” said Branson, founder of Virgin Group. “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 partnership further validates the incredible accomplishments of our team as we challenge conventional wisdom to reinvent train travel in America,” said Patrick Goddard, President of Brightline. “Given our shared values and Virgin’s track record, this partnership will help amplify our efforts and growth potential as we seek to expand to new markets.”
Brightline launched service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in May 2018 and currently has plans to expand to Orlando and Tampa. Pending the closing of the previously announced XpressWest acquisition and receipt of necessary federal approvals, it plans to begin construction next year to connect Las Vegas and Southern California.