The Palm Beach Post


- By Jeff Ostrowski Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Twitter: @bio561

Brightline’s newly launched rail service in South Florida is losing money and struggling to lure passengers, but its owners are optimistic enough about the concept that they just bought the private train route from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

Brightline said Tuesday that it paid an undisclose­d sum for XpressWest, a high-speed passenger rail project.

“Brightline is changing transporta­tion in our country by connecting heavily trafficked corridors that are too long to drive and too short to fly,” said Wes Edens, the billionair­e co-founder and co-chief executive of Fortress Investment Group, which owns Brightline.

Miami-based Brightline said its plans include buying 38 acres of land adjacent to the Las Vegas strip for constructi­on of a train station and mixed-use developmen­t.

That mirrors Brightline’s strategy in South Florida, where it’s developing real estate at stops in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

The Las Vegas rail project launched in 2005 but has struggled to raise the billions it needs to start constructi­on. Brightline said it aims to begin service between Southern California and Las Vegas in 2022.

Brightline launched its South Florida service in early 2018, and it hopes to extend to Orlando and Tampa.

Proponents of Brightline­say the rail service gives South Florida residents an alternativ­e to traveling by car. But Brightline’s sleek trains and shiny stations have shown mixed results in attracting passengers.

In a bond document in late 2017, Brightline predicted 2018 ridership of 1.1 million and passenger revenue of $23.9 million. During the first three months of 2018, Brightline said it carried just 74,780 passengers who spent $663,667 on tickets.

Brightline puts a sunny spin on the tepid ridership numbers, saying that ticket sales have been increasing. During a hearing before astate agency last month, Brightline Chief Executive Patrick Goddard said focusing on early ridership numbers before Brightline began serving Miami is “out of context and unfair.”

“Every month since we’ve been open, we’ve beaten the previous month in ridership, fares and revenue,” Goddard said.

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 GateHouse Media, the parent company of The Palm Beach Post.

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