The privately owned Brightline train at the new MiamiCentral terminal. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As taxpayer-funded public transit systems look for a way out of their coronavirus death spiral, a private equity tycoon is betting on a public-private financing model as a way to fund big transportation projects in the future.

What's happening: Fortress Investment Group's Wes Edens is putting $100 million of his own money into a $9 billion plan to build new light rail systems in Florida and on the West Coast, Forbes writes.

  • His Florida-based Brightline, funded in 2017 with $600 million in private equity and tax-exempt bonds, is the only private passenger train in the U.S., operating a 67-mile rail service between Miami and West Palm Beach.
  • His vision is to expand the line all the way to Orlando and to run a similar electric passenger train between Las Vegas and a Los Angeles suburb.
  • Funding comes from tax-exempt private-activity bonds issued by state and federal governments, a less expensive option than typical corporate bonds.
  • By 2026, he expects his trains to carry nearly 20 million passengers, generating annual revenue of $1.6 billion and operating profit of almost $1 billion a year, according to Forbes.

Yes, but: Trains aren't exactly a moneymaker. Amtrak has consumed $52 billion of public funds and never made money in its half-century of operation, Forbes points out.

  • And, Edens has had his own financial challenges, as Forbes notes. But he clawed his way back from near-disaster during the Great Recession, selling Fortress to SoftBank in 2017 and pocketing $1.4 billion (pretax) for himself and his partners.
  • “At this point in my life, I’m more of a builder,” Edens tells Forbes. “Upgrading our nation’s infrastructure and building high-speed trains can be this generation’s Hoover Dam and Tennessee Valley Authority.”

My thought bubble: Many public transportation systems were already financially distressed before the coronavirus. Until riders feel it’s safe to return, revenues will continue to suffer. We’re likely to see more of these public-private partnerships as the transportation sector recovers.

Go deeper

Ray LaHood predicts bipartisan push to aid public transit

Axios' Ina Fried (l) and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he expects a bipartisan push in Congress to shore up public transportation during the coronavirus pandemic, as it did for the airlines earlier this year and is under pressure to do again.

The state of play: During an Axios virtual event, LaHood underscored that Americans are using cars, rather than public transit, during COVID-19 pandemic. Public transportation as a result has subsequently seen a massive drop in ridership and revenue along with it.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 32,471,119 — Total deaths: 987,593 — Total recoveries: 22,374,557Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 7,032,524 — Total deaths: 203,657 — Total recoveries: 2,727,335 — Total tests: 99,483,712Map.
  3. States: "We’re not closing anything going forward": Florida fully lifts COVID restaurant restrictions — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tests positive for coronavirus.
  4. Health: Young people accounted for 20% of cases this summer.
  5. Business: Coronavirus has made airports happier places The expiration of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance looms.
  6. Education: Where bringing students back to school is most risky.
Mike Allen, author of AM
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden pushes unity message in new TV wave

A fresh Joe Biden ad, "New Start," signals an effort by his campaign to make unity a central theme, underscoring a new passage in his stump speech that says he won't be a president just for Democrats but for all Americans.

What he's saying: The ad — which began Friday night, and is a follow-up to "Fresh Start" — draws from a Biden speech earlier in the week in Manitowoc, Wisconsin:

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