For Virgin Trains, losses temper gains in ridership, revenue

Virgin Trains USA’s latest quarterly financial report shows dramatic improvement in ridership and revenue in the third quarter of 2018, but it also shows increased losses. Local government officials who oppose the train say the company continues to fall short of its revenue and ridership projections.

Previously known as Brightline, the trains carried 159,586 passengers and generated $2.9 million in revenue in the three-month period ending on Sept. 30, representing a 50 percent increase in passengers and a 91 percent jump in revenue, according to the unaudited report released in late December.

But losses are quickly mounting. During the first nine months of 2018, the train company took in $5,233,000 in total revenue while losing $87,458,000, according to the report, which was certified by Virgin Trains CFO Jeff Swiatek.

It’s a clear indication that “Brightline and its family is still struggling,” said Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold. Brevard’s neighbor to the south is fighting to keep Virgin Trains USA from sending trains through downtowns and residential neighborhoods on the Space and Treasure coasts 32 times a day at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour.

Reingold said ridership and revenue are still way below projections. “I’m not sure how the first three quarters of unaudited financial reports puts Brightline on track to meet the projected ridership of over 2 million riders and over $60 million in revenue for 2019.”

Company officials said they remain optimistic about their goal to raise the estimated $2 billion needed to construct the West Palm Beach to Orlando route. To date, there are no definite plans for a station in Brevard. That effort was bolstered on Dec. 24 when a federal judge dismissed the county’s latest lawsuit challenging bond funding and an environmental impact study, clearing the way for it to begin selling $1.15 billion in tax-free, government-backed private activity bonds.

Brightline began rebranding itself as Virgin Trains USA in November when Virgin Group acquired a 3 percent stake in the enterprise. Virgin Group is a multibillion-dollar, global corporation that operates more than 60 types of businesses, including airline, music, hotel and casino enterprises.

“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,” said Ben Porritt, vice president of corporate affairs.

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