ORLANDO, Fla. (FOX 13) - Virgin Trains USA has officially started construction on its planned high-speed rail route between Orlando and South Florida. The company, formerly known as Brightline, announced the beginning of its Phase 2 development on Tuesday.
The construction involves laying 170 miles of new track between Orlando International Airport and West Palm Beach.
The train service already operates a route in South Florida, linking Miami to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson told FOX 13 he is "100% confident" that Tampa will be next in the company's expansion effort.
"I’m absolutely certain that Tampa will be getting Virgin Trains in the very near future," he said.
Virgin Trains' financial records shed light on its plans for connecting to Tampa. A company map shows the train will go from Orlando International Airport, stop at Disney, then will track west along Interstate 4 to a stop in Tampa. It will offer snacks, drinks and wi-fi.
“Tampa is a meaningful connection,” Virgin Trains president Patrick Goddard said. “Growth in the city of Tampa over the past decade has been incredibly impressive. We see a massive opportunity.”
The company said the Phase 2 development to connect the existing South Florida route to Orlando represents a $4-billion private investment.
“Connecting Central and South Florida will bring thousands of jobs today and by modernizing infrastructure, we will strengthen Florida's economy for decades,” Goddard added.
Construction of Phase 2 encompasses four zones, with Zone One and Zone Two work beginning immediately. Those areas include the Orlando International Airport and the Virgin Trains Maintenance Facility.
The company said the Phase 2 construction will generate more than 10,000 jobs and over $650 million in federal, state and local tax revenue.
Zone Three is approximately 35 miles of rail alignment following the Beachline Expressway (State Road 528), between Orlando International Airport and Cocoa. Zone Four includes the upgrade of 129 miles of existing track, between Cocoa and West Palm Beach, allowing train speeds of up to 110 mph.
Service is expected to begin between South Florida and Orlando sometime in 2022.