By CHARLES A. BAKER III | Staff Writer
POLK COUNTY – Virgin Train USA Vice President of Government Affairs Bob O’Malley spoke during the SVN Sanders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate I4 Commercial Corridor Conference June 28 at Florida Polytechnic University.
Virgin Train USA recently partnered with Brightline to manage and build high-speed rail in select locations nationwide. Staff have already completed high-speed rail stations in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami. Phase Two of the project in Florida is a link between West Palm Beach and Orlando, with a stop at Fort Pierce.
Phase Three would link Orlando with Tampa, but O’Malley said staff are considering high-speed rail options in other locations and that it was likely that a link would be built between Los Angeles and Las Vegas before high-speed rail would link Orlando and Tampa.
Once Phase Three does become a reality, though, the addition of a stop in Polk County is a distinct possibility. While O’Malley ruled out a stop in Winter Haven, he said staff are considering stops near the attractions and International Drive in Orlando as well as in Lakeland.
“It’s a logical place for a stop,” O’Malley said in reference to Lakeland.
Virgin Train USA’s high-speed rail operations currently run 16 trains per day, seven days per week, nearly on the hour — and officials say ridership is growing in Florida. In May, the private company opened a high-speed rail station in Miami, blocks from American Airlines Arena. The station includes hundreds of apartments and retail and is located near scenic Biscayne Bay.
O’Malley said staff sees potential real estate opportunities around Lakeland to build a similar station. Hearing that, SVN Sanders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate Managing Director and Broker Gary M. Ralston applauded.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Ralston said.
On June 24, Virgin Train USA staff helped break ground at a rail hub being built at Orlando International Airport, where high-speed rail, commuter rail and light rail service will get a new station, possibly by 2022.
“I think Orlando is going to be a game-changer for us,” O’Malley said
Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines do not fly between Orlando and Miami, O’Malley said, adding that it is possible that flights could connect with high-speed rail.
Virgin Train USA staff place a high priority on customer service, with beer, wine and food available during trips. O’Malley said staff are focused on building profitable lines linking specific regions, not a nationwide network.
“We are selling an experience,” O’Malley said. “We are reinventing train travel in the United States. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Contact Charles A. Baker III at firstname.lastname@example.org.