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Business News/ News / Brightline Founder Eyes Private Rail Expansion to Texas, Seattle
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Brightline Founder Eyes Private Rail Expansion to Texas, Seattle

A new era of fast passenger rail is poised to sweep across the US, according to Wes Edens, the billionaire founder of Brightline — the first private train operator in the country in more than a century.

Brightline Founder Eyes Private Rail Expansion to Texas, SeattlePremium
Brightline Founder Eyes Private Rail Expansion to Texas, Seattle

(Bloomberg) -- A new era of fast passenger rail is poised to sweep across the US, according to Wes Edens, the billionaire founder of Brightline — the first private train operator in the country in more than a century.

After kicking off construction this week on Brightline’s latest venture, a $12 billion rail project spanning from Las Vegas to Southern California, Edens is already envisioning the next major hub. 

The Texas triangle of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio is among the promising routes, as are Atlanta-Charlotte, Portland-Seattle and Chicago-St. Louis, the Fortress Investment Group co-chair and chief executive officer said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s Wall Street Week with David Westin.

“When we think of places that are likely to be next on the list, it’s city pairs that have got the same characteristics as we see here — which are two big population centers separated by 200 to 300 miles and lots of traffic between them," said Edens. Brightline already has a footprint in Florida connecting Miami, West Palm Beach and Orlando. So far, though, Florida ridership has lagged the firm’s own projections.

“A successful launch of this will be the beginning of not only the next rail system but of the rail industry," Edens said of the Fortress-backed project. “In this country we have a big automotive industry, we have a big aeronautical industry, I think it is time to have a big passenger rail industry." 

Such an undertaking could create hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs, added Edens, who is also the co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team.

Brightline West promises to be the first true high-speed rail in the US — capable of reaching speeds of 200 miles per hour. Edens expects the new line spanning 218 miles (about 350 kilometers) to be extremely popular as well as highly profitable. “There will be some investment opportunities in both debt and equity between now and the end of the year," he said. The Florida line is in the midst of refinancing some $4 billion in debt.

Read more: Brightline Slaps Yield of Up to 11% on Upsized Junk Bond Deal

The excitement around passenger rail in the US comes amid a push from President Joe Biden, whose long-standing daily train commutes earned him the nickname ‘Amtrak Joe.’ The Vegas-to-California project, dubbed Brightline West, has received $3 billion in funding under Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal. 

The 2021 legislation provides $66 billion for passenger and freight rail improvements across the US with $22 billion exclusively to Amtrak. The Northeast Corridor, where Amtrak operates its popular Acela train, is not a top priority for Brightline.

Edens said government involvement can be pivotal to getting new industries off the ground — pointing to examples including Elon Musk’s extraterrestrial venture, SpaceX.

“There’s lots of examples of things that started out being subsidized and then turned into big, robust businesses and I think the train is going to follow in those same footsteps," Edens said. 

--With assistance from David Westin.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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Published: 25 Apr 2024, 12:02 AM IST
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