A US transit first
This will be a US transit first as the only intercity rail system directly connecting a major cruise port with an international airport (Orlando International Airport).
The service will increase mobility, take cars off the road and connect Central Florida to the ‘cruise capital of the world,’ said Patrick Goddard, president of Virgin Trains.
‘This private-public partnership is a great opportunity to expand PortMiami’s connectivity to visitors traveling from Central Florida and for Miami-Dade County residents to get to the Orlando area in a quick, enjoyable way,’ Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez added.
Plus, Aventura and, perhaps, Boca Raton
Current stops include downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach with construction under way to connect with Orlando in 2022. An additional station in Aventura was recently approved and Virgin Trains is working with the city of Boca Raton to add a station in 2020.
Last year PortMiami handled more than 5.5m passenger movements. Goddard said 40% to 50% of cruisers drive to the port, and that many traveling by car originate from points north of Palm Beach, making Virgin Trains a convenient option.
The railway already serves MiamiCentral, not far from the port. But particularly for overseas visitors who may pair a vacation in Orlando with a cruise from Miami, being able to get off the train and see ships ‘removes a lot of the friction’ from their travel, Goddard said.
750,000 rides annually
Virgin Trains is initially projecting 750,000 cruise passenger rides annually involving the PortMiami station.
An average of two round-trip trains a day is envisioned for the first two years of operation, with the plan to expand to at least four daily round-trips thereafter.
‘We’re going to tailor our schedule to optimize operations. We’re looking at peak embarkation/disembarkation times and trying to line up our overall schedules,’ Goddard said. That could mean fewer round-trips with longer trains or shorter trains with greater frequency. He noted that peak times for cruisers are different from peak commuting times, which should balance the ridership nicely.
The $15.4m station will be built at the northeast end of the port, where the existing rail tracks are located, and shuttles will be used to transfer passengers between the station and their cruise terminal.
'The addition of a Brightline station at PortMiami is very exciting news,' said Ken Muskat, EVP and COO of MSC Cruises USA 'For MSC Cruises, the official cruise line of Brightline, we now have four ships sailing from PortMiami, in addition to the new terminal we’re building. Our partnership with Brightline has been very well received by our guests to date and the new Brightline PortMiami station will make getting to the port and our ships even easier for our guests.'
Working with all cruise lines
Virgin Trains also has a marketing agreement with Norwegian Cruise Line. And Virgin Voyages is in the family. However, Goddard stressed the company aims to work with all cruise operators.
PortMiami is currently home to 22 lines and will welcome Virgin Voyages in 2020. New terminals are coming for Norwegian, Virgin, Carnival Cruise Line and MSC Cruises. Over a decade, PortMiami’s cruise traffic is expected to nearly double, to 10m passenger movements.
Virgin Trains already offers ‘Train to Port’ packages that bundle in parking, a checked bag and more. These are available to passengers of all lines sailing from South Florida ports. This month, a dedicated booking portal for travel agents rolled out with access to the lowest fares and a generous 20% commission. More than 100 agents have signed up to date.
To further raise awareness among cruise lines and destinations, Virgin Trains plans a significant presence at Seatrade Cruise Global in April. It will sponsor the press room and has secured a news conference slot.
The company is also working to develop packages with Cruise Planners, World Travel Holdings and American Express Travel, along with destination partners. There could be opportunities for pre- and post-cruise programs with destinations, hotels and resorts. Family and group charters of railcars and weddings paired with cruises are also among the possibilities.
Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover The Palm Beaches, the tourism marketing organization for Palm Beach County, sees the PortMiami station as a game changer.
‘While our destination already enjoys easy access to and from Miami, cruise passengers — particularly those sailing on luxury lines — will have even more opportunities to begin or end their journeys here, thanks to a faster and effortless ride,’ Pesquera said. ‘Brightline’s West Palm Beach station is conveniently located in the heart of downtown, within walking distance of several hotels and attractions, and only a short ride to iconic properties such as The Breakers, Eau Palm Beach, Four Seasons Resort, Brazilian Court, Chesterfield Palm Beach and The Colony Hotel off Worth Avenue.’