Virgin Trains seeks $350M to build five stations in Miami-Dade

Stations proposed in Wynwood, Design District, El Portal, North Miami, FIU Biscayne

Richard Branson (Credit: Virgin, Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
Richard Branson (Credit: Virgin, Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

Virgin Trains is proposing a major expansion of the commuter rail service, funded mostly by Miami-Dade County.

Virgin Trains USA is seeking $350 million from the county to build up to five train platforms between downtown Miami and Aventura, as well as related infrastructure that would be required, according to a county memo. The proposed stations would be in Wynwood/Midtown, the Miami Design District, Upper Eastside/El Portal, North Miami and Florida International University/Biscayne Boulevard corridor.

Brightline, as the train service that runs from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach is currently called, shut down in late March due to the coronavirus pandemic and laid off at least 250 employees. The company is a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, which is backed by the private equity firm Fortress Investment Group.

A resolution on the June 2 agenda for the Miami-Dade County Commission shows the county is in talks with Virgin Trains to extend the commuter rail service in the northeast corridor of Miami-Dade County, as first reported by the Miami Herald. Virgin Trains would design and build the platforms, determine whether it needs to acquire or lease land for parking, determine the design and build of a maintenance facility, and maintain the stations.

The expansion would be part of the county’s Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) transportation plan.

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Virgin Trains would fund about $75 million, and the county would provide or source about $350 million in funding. Virgin Trains is proposing to receive a 4 percent development fee related to the design and construction of the maintenance facility, rail infrastructure, enhancements to the stations and the acquisition of rolling stock. Rolling stock refers to the trains or other vehicles used on a railroad.

The proposed agreement calls for an initial 30-year term with three 20-year renewal options for a maximum of 90 years, according to the county memo. Virgin Trains would also charge the county $29 million a year in rent that would increase every three years. Rent collection would begin once the rail service is operational at all five stops.

At the end of 2018, Brightline announced that Virgin Group made a minority investment in the company and would be providing rights to rename the system Virgin Trains USA. The rebranding from Brightline to Virgin Trains is ongoing, with completion expected by mid-2020.

Brightline has spurred major office, retail and residential development near its stations, but has struggled with ridership. The rail service is planning to expand to Orlando, as well as make additional stops in Aventura and Boca Raton. In March, the company said that the suspension of service has not affected construction of its planned Orlando rail line.