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Virgin Trains expands in the US as it prepares to exit UK market

Simon Calder

Virgin Trains is winding down in the UK, having been disqualified from the bidding process for the West Coast main line in a row about pension liabilities.

But its US counterpart is starting work this week on the next stage of what is becoming an East Coast main line through Florida.

Virgin Trains USA has started work at Orlando airport on a new 168-mile line, costing £4bn (£3.1bn). It will initially run east along the Highway 528 towards the Atlantic shore.

The line will then head south to West Palm Beach, where it will connect with the existing line to Miami.

Completion is scheduled for 2022.

Miami and West Palm Beach are linked by a new rail line with frequent and fast services. It was created by Brightline, but after an agreement with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group it is now branded as Virgin Trains.

Since trains began running on the Miami-West Palm Beach line in 2017, more than a dozen people have died after being hit – most recently as last weekend, when a woman was hit by a train at Lake Worth Beach.

The main factor common to these fatalities appears to be an assumption among pedestrians that the trains are travelling slowly.

The Orlando-West Palm Beach line will be constructed to allow speeds of up to 125mph, though initially trains will run no faster than 110mph.

The overall journey time between Miami and Orlando airport is likely to be around three hours.

Amtrak, the national rail operator, has two trains a day each day between Miami and Orlando – one taking just over five hours, the other nearly seven-and-a-half hours.

Patrick Goddard, president of Virgin Trains USA, said: “Connecting central and south Florida will bring thousands of jobs today and by modernising infrastructure, we will strengthen Florida’s economy for decades.”

Virgin Atlantic flies from the UK to both Orlando and Miami airports.