Virgin chases US train deal

Virgin Group has joined the race to build and run the first high-speed railway line in the US.

The transport operator, owned by Sir Richard Branson, has joined one of eight consortia bidding to operate the 168mph rail-link, set to open for bids early next year with a completion date slated for 2015.

Virgin’s partners include Alstom and Vinci of France as well as Spain’s Obrascón Huarte Lain. National Express is also bidding for the contract as part of a team that includes Canada’s Bombardier and Kiewit of the US.

The $2.6bn (£1.6bn) route will run between Tampa and Orlando in Florida – which Virgin already serves though with Virgin Atlantic, its long-haul airline.

The first phase of the route from Tampa to Orlando International Airport is 84 miles long, with a stop at Disney World.

The second stage of the link, a 240-mile line from Orlando to Miami, has not received stimulus funding but $8m is being invested in a feasibility study. Florida has secured $2bn of the $2.6bn budget from the government’s stimulus fund. The completion of the project would see US President Barack Obama also fulfill one of his transport priorities.