Virgin Trains breaks ground on South Florida to Orlando route

New phase expected to be complete by 2022

Officials are breaking ground on a new phase of a private train line that will connect South Florida to central Florida.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Officials are breaking ground on a new phase of a private train line that will connect South Florida to central Florida.

A groundbreaking ceremony was being held Monday for the construction of "Phase 2" of the train line that will run from Miami to Orlando, and eventually to Tampa if all goes as planned.

"Construction of high speed rail between West Palm Beach and Orlando is finally underway!" Virgin Trains USA President Patrick Goddard said. "Once operational, trains will arrive and depart from these very platforms. At top speeds over 125 mph, Virgin Trains will be the safest, most convenient, fastest, most productive, eco-friendly means for getting between Central and South Florida."

Virgin Trains already has been operating from Miami to West Palm Beach.

"This is the reinvention of passenger rail in America," Goddard said. 

The new phase will connect South Florida to Orlando International Airport on 170 miles of track. It represents a $4 billion investment by Virgin Trains, which is backed by Fortress Investment Group.

The new phase is expected to be completed by 2022.

Goddard said he's sure the rail line through Central Florida will succeed because it gives drivers a better alternative.

"It's already working," Goddard said. "We have proof of concept down in South Florida, we've been operating for over a year, we're running trains on the hour between Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach."

Goddard said train tickets from South Florida to Central Florida will be about two-thirds the price of a plane ticket.

"It's not about the price, it's about the experience," Goddard said. "People are going to be safer, eco-friendlier, it's more convenient, more comfy.  What I think people need to get into the mentality of is that you can get out of your car, you can abandon your car."

Goddard said if the rail line doesn't work, taxpayers will not be on the hook for maintaining the newly installed track. 

"That's the beauty of this project, this is the first privately funded high-speed rail line in the country since Henry Flagler did it 125 years ago, so we are not dependent on any kind of state grants or subsidies," Goddard said. "We are entirely funded by private enterprise." 

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is not concerned about the rail line failing or taxpayers picking up the tab.

"Given the growth of our community now, it should work," Demings said. "Taxpayers are going to have to take care of it, are you concerned about that? I'm not really concerned about what they're doing here because they're the ones that have all the liability, financial liability that is. They're business persons, they've been successful all over the globe so I have no reason to think they won't be successful."

Demings wants to see Central Florida connected by train, light rail and bus service.
The new phase is expected to be completed by 2022.

The company also is in the process of constructing a train line between Las Vegas and Southern California.

The Associated Press also contributed to this post

About the Authors:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.