When Virgin Trains, then known as Brightline, opened up its Miami Central station a year ago launching express service from downtown Miami to West Palm Beach, it represented a milestone in the future of travel.
Last week, company representatives said an even bigger milestone is coming down the tracks, once its planned West Palm-to-Orlando route is complete.
In a presentation given Thursday to the Central Florida Expressway Authority, Virgin confirmed that a portion of the route will reach a top speed of 125 miles per hour.
That would make it the fastest train ever built in the southern Unites States, and, as the Orlando Sentinel first noted, only a few gasps behind the northeast corridor's Acela, which tops out at 150 miles per hour.
All told, a trip from Miami Central Station to Orlando International will take approximately three hours, shaving about a half hour off drive time.
The company will use existing Florida East Coast track to snake up the east coast before hitting CFX's existing transit corridor in southeast Orange county. There, it will lay down all-new track as it turns west near Cocoa Beach and travels adjacent to FL-528 to Orlando International, said Virgin Executive Vice President of Rail Infrastructure Adrian Share.
Construction on the extension began in Orlando in May; an official ribbon cutting is now slated for Monday, Share said. Plans to extend the route to Tampa, as well as Orlando venues like the area around Disney, remain in preliminary phases.
Company officials reaffirmed no state funds are being used to finance the $4 billion, 167-mile extension, which is set to begin service in 2022. The company did access federal tax breaks in issuing more than $2 billion in bonds for the project.
Meanwhile, Share said, ridership figures remain on track - despite a slide in its passenger count and revenues. In its most recent investor filing, covering the month of April, Virgin said it carried 71,308 passengers, generating total revenues of approximately $1.8 million, down from 91,903 passengers and $2.3 million in revenues in March. The company said commuter and frequent business-traveler ridership was up, while leisure-oriented ridership was lower "due to lower seasonal event activity."
Share also said the company is still ramping up its ridership.
Share hinted that Virgin plans to expand beyond Florida and Las Vegas, where it has also purchased the rights to a rail corridor extending from Sin City to the outskirts of Los Angeles.
"Our approach to these projects is to look for candidates that have city centers that are too long to drive and too short to fly," Share said. "We look at an approach where we can build smartly, affordably, and ... maximize the use of existing corridors."