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Virgin Trains Ready For Expansion To Orlando

Next week, Virgin Trains USA, formerly called Brightline, will hold a groundbreaking for its extension from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport. 

Richard Branson at Central Fare, a food hall in the MiamiCentral train station.

Plans are also being debated for an extension to Tampa. Meanwhile, the already-open train station in Miami is ramping up leasing. When the whole circuit is complete, tourists could conceivably fly in on Virgin-branded planes to go on Virgin-branded cruise ships in Miami — which are expected to launch next year — then ride the Virgin-branded train to Disney World, perhaps one day staying in Virgin hotels along the way.

Trains currently run 16 times per day between Miami and Orlando. They will run on Florida East Coast Railway track north to Cocoa Beach, then, once new track is built, go for 167 miles to Orlando. The extended service is expected to begin in 2022.

The train has already spurred development around its stations. Virgin's investment last year came with naming rights. The company, led by billionaire Richard Branson, already operates trains in England. 

Last week, Adrian Share, Virgin Train USA’s executive vice president of rail infrastructure, gave an update on the expansion. Share detailed plans to pick up passengers at the Orlando International Airport, make a stop at the Disney theme parks, then head to downtown Tampa, WLRN reported.

Orlando officials expressed concerns about favoring one private theme park business over another, and pleaded for a stop at the city's convention center, though it would require miles of costly elevated rail. They also worried that, if ridership is low, the new stretch of tracks wouldn't be able to accommodate freight instead. 

The trains' ridership numbers — 244,000 in the first three months of this year — are only about half the number projected when the trains' parent company applied for its $1.5B federal loan in 2014, the Palm Beach Post reported. Share said that ridership is in line with projections and that a ramp-up period was expected. 

Regardless, the company is moving ahead. In Miami, where a train station has been open for about a year, JLL this week announced it is handling leasing for the 136K SF retail space at Virgin MiamiCentral, which includes the 30K SF food hall, Central Fare. So far, Central Fare’s first phase tenants include a 10K SF restaurant and bar, La Estación American Brasserie by Juvia Group; World Famous House of Mac; Bucks Crepes; Bio Bio Gelato; Rosetta Bakery and Parliament Coffee.

Tenants set to open in the upcoming months include Art de Vivre wine bar, and Kuenko and 800º Woodfired Kitchen in the fall. Joe and the Juice is currently open on the ground floor of the station and Einstein Bros. Bagels is open at the 3 MiamiCentral office tower.  

UPDATE: JUNE 20, 6:30 P.M. EST:  The story has been updated to make clear that JLL is leasing the whole Virgin MiamiCentral space, not just the food hall.