Proposed train service could bring new development between Atlanta and Charlotte

by Richard Lawson

High-speed passenger train service traversing the nearly 250 miles between Atlanta and Charlotte has been a quiet discussion for the past several years. Now, with a famous name and an SEC filing backing it up, the plan may become a reality.

A private company out of Florida called Brightline plans to not only bring the train but also real estate development around the stations, which would include multifamily residential.

To add to the prospect’s attraction, Brightline is rebranding itself as Virgin Rails. That’s right: Billionaire Richard Branson, who seems to have created Virgin everything, struck a deal with Brightline, a company founded six years ago, to carry the Virgin trademark. Now, the company is looking to go public.

In its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission for the offering, the company affirmed plans to expand outside of Florida and listed the Atlanta-to-Charlotte route as one of several targets around the country. In that capacity, Brightline would compete with Amtrak as it does in Florida.

While the company’s intention is clear, timing is another question. Six years passed between the time Brightline announced service between Miami and West Palm Beach — around 70 miles by car — to when the route started running earlier this year. The company is working on a deal between Las Vegas and Los Angeles as well as expansion in Florida.

While better transportation between Atlanta and Charlotte will benefit both cities, the real estate community would be wise to watch for the company’s planned development around the stations in particular. “We believe that passenger volume creates additional opportunities, such as sponsorship deals and transit oriented development of real estate at or near our stations for mixed uses including commercial, retail, restaurants and residential purposes that could generate further meaningful returns,” the company said in its SEC filing.

Some groundwork may have been laid for easing path for Virgin Rails. The Georgia Department of Transportation has been studying passenger rail service as part of the Federal Railroad Administration’s Southeast High Speed Corridor initiative since 2015.