Brightline gets $1.1B financing approval for Orlando train – Florida Politics

Brightline gets $1.1B financing approval for Orlando train

Brightline has secured federal approval for $1.15 billion in private activity bonds to finance its private, high-speed passenger train planned to link its South Florida passenger train railway with Orlando, the company announced Friday.

The company, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, has received U.S. Department of Transportation approval for the tax-exempt bonds to double-track the rail line between West Palm Beach and Cocoa, and build new tracks from Cocoa to the Orlando International Airport, which is just finishing construction of a train station.

In other news, the company also announced it has secured the final two permits it needs from the South Florida Water Management District for the project.

Earlier this month the Federal Railroad Administration approved the route. Brightline also has won several court cases this year, ending legal challenges brought by opponents of the project, chiefly some political leaders and residents in the ride-over Treasure Coast counties between West Palm Beach and Orlando. There also are bills in the Florida Legislature, sponsored by Treasure Coast lawmakers, seeking to demand state jurisdiction over safety matters and construction.

The company indicated it still is exploring other financing options. Nonetheless, it reported it plans to start construction of that Phase 2 of its railroad in early 2018. It also intends to build a train maintenance yard on land leased from the Orlando International Airport.

Phase 1 is the railway connecting West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami for private passenger train service. The company has said it intends to start service on that line in early 2018 but has not yet announced an inauguration date.

“In another major step forward for Brightline’s Phase 2 extension to Orlando, U.S. DOT approved a $1.15 billion Private Activity Bond allocation,” Brightline CEO Dave Howard said. “After a successful $600 million PAB closing this week, we are pleased to have this financing option available. We appreciate the leadership of U.S. DOT as they work to move major infrastructure projects forward, creating thousands of jobs and stimulating hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development.”

The financing option becomes available as opponents of the train continue to question the company’s financing. Earlier this week, attorneys for Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, Martin County, and Indian River County wrote to the U.S. Department of Transportation raising questions about the anticipated approval of private activity bonds use. Those opponents have been challenging Brightline both in federal and state venues. They were not immediately available Friday to discuss the U.S. DOT decision.

Brightline is still analyzing all financing options for Phase 2, including a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan. With all federal approvals in place, Brightline is finalizing the engineering and design for the rail infrastructure. Additionally, Brightline is working on the installation of a new signal system and Positive Train Control (PTC) for the entire system between Miami and Orlando. PTC will be in place between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2018 and will be operational along the entire 235-mile route when the extension to Orlando opens.

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.
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