Despite losses, Virgin Trains USA/Brightline says it's full speed ahead

Posted at 5:37 PM, Feb 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-20 05:20:37-05

Full speed ahead. That’s what Virgin Trains USA, formerly Brightline, is promising despite fresh concerns about whether it has the money to keep going and pay for its expansion from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

Virgin Trains USA decided to abandon a stock sale, which could have brought in around $500 million in much needed cash.

“They’re bleeding money like crazy,” said Richard Rampell, CPA with MBAF in Palm Beach.

According to the company’s financial documents, Virgin Trains USA is looking at an $82 million loss in nine months.

“It’s a startup,” said Jim Kovalsky with the Florida East Coast Railway Society. “Nobody expected them to make money in the beginning.”

Including Brightline officials, who said this is a long-term project. What they’re looking at closely are passenger numbers.

The company reported around 240,000 passengers last quarter, which is in line with their projections.

“As indicated last week we will continue to finance the project through a combination of debt and equity,” Brightline SVP of Corporate Affairs, Ben Porritt said in a statement. “The only thing that has changed in the past week was our decision to remain private.”

The company is looking at different financial options moving forward.

“Based on the results that have happened so far, they’ve got a long way to go before they become profitable,” Rampell said.

The biggest hurdle for the company might be to have to convince consumers to change their habits and leave the cars behind.

“It’s a huge undertaking and it’s a lot of education,” Kovalsky said.

On a Tuesday afternoon at the Brightline station in West Palm Beach, there were plenty of passengers already sold on the idea.

“No one in their right mind wants to drive to Miami unless they have to,” one passenger said.

“I love it. It’s fantastic. Very convenient,” said another.

The question will be if the idea can catch on and enough South Floridians will ditch the car for the train to make sure this line will have a bright future.