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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 - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

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