In a report to bond investors, Brightline, to be renamed VirginTrains USA, said it barely broke 1 million passengers for the year, less than half the count it projected. Revenue for 2019 was $22 million, less than a fifth of its projection.
Brightline, the rail company aiming to prove the financial viability of private train service, says its 2019 passenger counts and revenues were far below its own forecasts.
In a document issued to bond investors in late 2017, Brightline projected its 2019 ridership in South Florida would top 2.3 million, while revenue would eclipse $112 million.
In a report to bond investors late Friday, Brightline said it barely broke 1 million passengers for the year, less than half the count it projected. Revenue for 2019 was $22 million, less than a fifth of its projection.
Brightline says it’s unconcerned about the lagging numbers. In a statement, the company said it still expects to reach the annual ridership levels of 2.9 million it had forecast for 2020 — although not in 2020.
“Nothing we see makes us think we will not ultimately stabilize at the 2.9 million originally projected,” Brightline said in an email.
The company reported record monthly ridership of 127,960 for December, although discounts and promotions might have boosted that number. Brightline said average passenger revenue for December 2019 was $16.04, down from $17.43 in December 2018.
Critics of the service remain skeptical.
“It is not surprising that they are so far below their expectations,” said Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold, who has opposed Brightline’s proposed route through his county on its way to Orlando. “I will note that their increase in ridership for the month of December is probably tied to the drop in the average ticket price.”
In an effort to bolster passenger counts, the company plans to build three new stations in South Florida, at PortMiami, in Aventura and in downtown Boca Raton.
The three new stations will cost $120 million, Brightline says, with $90 million of that amount coming from “grants and government contributions.”
Brightline began operating between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in January 2018. It launched service to downtown Miami in May 2018, and it ramped up to its full schedule of trips in August of that year.
In some ways, the service has lived up to expectations. Brightline’s trains are shiny and reliable, its stations sleek. While a number of pedestrians have died after being hit by Brightline trains, the rail service has been faulted in none of those incidents.
The company raised $1.75 billion from bond investors to bankroll an expansion to Orlando.
Meanwhile, traveling on Interstate 95 in South Florida remains as frustrating and harrowing as ever. The combination of a robust economy, record tourism and low gas prices contribute to heavy traffic on I-95.
Despite all those factors in Brightline’s favor, South Floridians have not flocked to the train service in the numbers the company told investors to expect.
In a June interview, Wes Edens, the billionaire behind Brightline, expressed no concerns about ridership or revenue.
“We started a little bit later than we thought, but actually it’s very much in line with what our projections were,” Edens said. “We’ve moved about a million people in the first year. …. We’re very, very happy with how it’s actually gone thus far.”
All Aboard Florida, which operates Brightline, is owned by an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group LLC, a global investment management firm. Fortress Investment Group LLC is contracted to manage and advise New Media Investments Inc., which owns Gannett, the parent of The Palm Beach Post.