WEST PALM BEACH, FL – According to reports, Brightline, a national express inter-city rail system, announced through parent company Virgin Trains USA that they are temporarily suspending service in South Florida and are laying off a vast majority of their workers there – 250 out of a workforce of just over 300 – in response to the rampant coronavirus pandemic sweeping through the nation.
Workers throughout the Brightline hierarchy were laid off, according to reports, from track and local station workers all the way up to the organization’s vice president of corporate development, Bob O’Malley, who confirmed his employment status – or lack thereof – on Twitter Wednesday evening.
“I’m sad to share that I’ve been laid off from Virgin Trains USA, but still proud of our good work in FL, CA & NV,” he said. “I’ll continue to advocate for transportation, which will be even more important in the post-pandemic recovery. And obviously I’m looking for a new job, so please RT.”
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Representatives for Virgin Trains USA stated that they intend to re-hire as many of the laid-off Brightline employees as possible once they resume service, but were unable to offer any sort of timeline as to when they expected that to occur.
Additionally, according to an email message sent out to passengers who use Brightline services in the region, the future for South Florida disruptions elude to the potential for an extensive time period of shut downs and closures.
“We continue to receive guidance from state and government agencies that South Florida will continue to impose lockdowns of non-essential businesses for a lengthy and indefinite period of time,” the email stated.Wed, Mar 25, 7:05 PM Eastern
Also cited was the organizations need and responsibility to help “flatten the curve” until the situation subsides, and it becomes feasible for them to service the community again.
Brightline currently operates passenger trains on the Florida East Coast Railway between Miami and West Palm Beach, with an intermediate stop at Fort Lauderdale. The final train before the service suspension set in departed the Miami station Wednesday evening.
Brightline’s West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale service originally began in January 2018, with West Palm Beach and Miami service later becoming active in May 2018. Virgin Trains USA has also expressed interest in adding a station on the Treasure Coast and another on the Space Coast between West Palm Beach and Orlando.
Currently, Virgin Trains USA is one of the only privately operated higher-speed passenger rail services in the United States.
The suspension of Brightline service in South Florida has not waylaid Virgin Trains USA’s plans for national expansion of their railway service, however. Virgin Trains recently began construction of an extension from Cocoa to Orlando, and currently have not laid off any of the 700 construction workers still involved with the project. The line is projected to be completed in 2022.
In addition, Virgin is also in the process of constructing a 185-mile express train line between the Las Vegas Strip and Victorville, California. The route is expected to service the high number of commercial commuters that travel between the two regions on a daily basis. Plans to establish train service between the two regions has been in the on again/off again planning stages by several companies since the late 1990’s, with plans only solidifying recently when Virgin stepped into the project as part of their plans for national expansion.
As of press time, Virgin has not announced any plans to cease construction work on any of their upcoming lines due to coronavirus concerns.