Holly V. Kapherr
Holly V. Kapherr

Virgin Trains, the privately funded rail service formerly known as Brightline, has been the buzz of Florida's transportation sector for several years. Currently, the line is shuttling residents and tourists alike between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in addition to hosting events like a "Polar Express"-themed holiday ride and a gourmet food and wine dinner series.

Late last month, Virgin Trains broke ground on perhaps the most anticipated segment of the train line, one that will run from West Palm to Orlando Airport, enabling the line to connect the state's two largest tourism destinations, Miami to the south and Orlando and its theme parks to the north. When completed sometime in 2022, the line will cover 170 miles to the new South Terminal at Orlando Airport, which is expected to open in late 2021.

At a ceremony attended by Virgin Trains chairman and co-founder Wes Edens and Virgin Trains president Patrick Goddard as well as Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.); her husband, Orange County mayor Jerry Demings; and Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer, Edens referred to the Miami-Orlando route as not just an important local and statewide milestone but a benchmark "to reinvent passenger rail in America and clearly demonstrates the leadership role that the private sector can play in revitalizing our nation's infrastructure."

Speakers at the event also made clear that Virgin Trains' expansion into Central Florida is driven by the record-breaking tourism numbers the region continues to show year over year. Orlando Airport welcomed a record 47 million passengers last year, and according to Visit Florida's 2018 data, more than 126 million out-of-state visitors traveled to Florida last year. Virgin Trains projects over 6 million annual riders in Florida, with a $6.4 billion economic impact.

"This revolutionary service will connect directly to Orlando International Airport, showing that Florida's doors are open and empowering Orlando as a gateway to the state," said Val Demings, whose district includes Orlando and surrounding communities.

Jerry Demings added that the higher-speed rail line will be a central asset to the state's tourism industry and will help to "create a super-region [between Orlando and] South Florida."

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority chairman Domingo Sanchez touted the ease with which passengers will be able to transfer from airplane to rail line. "The Intermodal Terminal Facility at Orlando International Airport  will soon be the first such facility in the country with intercity rail service directly connected to the terminal," he said. "The ability for passengers to arrive on flights from all over the world and depart to or arrive from South Florida without leaving the terminal is becoming a reality that can be experienced by millions annually."

The trip from Orlando Airport to Miami will take approximately three hours (shaving about 90 minutes from the usual drive time). Frequency of Orlando-bound trains hasn't been determined, nor has pricing for trips beginning or ending in Orlando. Virgin Trains currently offers 34 departures between Miami and West Palm Beach on weekdays, 20 on Saturdays and 18 on Sundays.

Onboard amenities include free high-speed WiFi; power and USB outlets at every seat; a selection of food and beverage offerings (including alcoholic beverages); bicycle and luggage storage; and pet-friendly service.

Virgin Trains pays 20% commission to travel advisors.

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