SunRail Begins Passenger Service!

The Orlando, FL region reached a pivotal transit milestone on May 1, 2014, the start of SunRail commuter rail services!

A geographically-accurate map of the SunRail corridor. From Wikipedia.
A geographically-accurate map of the SunRail corridor. From Wikipedia.

SunRail has been in the works since the early 2000s as a way to get traffic off of heavily congested Interstate 4, with construction beginning in 2007. The route (shown to the left) runs from DeBary to almost the Osceola/Orange County line at Sand Lake Rd, with a stop located at the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (also known as LYNX)’s Central Station. Plans are in the works to extend the line to Poinciana to the south and DeLand to the north, connecting to Amtrak stations in DeLand and Kissimmee. All suburban stations (Maitland and northward, as well as Sand Lake Rd) have Park-N-Ride Lots.

While SunRail services only operate during weekdays, there are plans to expand operating hours should demand warrant it. Trains generally depart every 30 minutes during rush hour, with lesser service during the midday and late evening hours. The initial schedule has been posted on the SunRail website. Connections to LYNX bus routes are provided at all SunRail stations within Orange and Seminole Counties. At the DeBary station, Volusia Transit (VOTRAN) provides connecting bus services.

Like many passenger rail corridors, has seen its share of successes and struggles. Getting SunRail to become reality took a lot of collaboration between multiple entities, including local and state governments, the Florida Department of Transportation, and CSX Transportation. Additionally, there have been many political battles that delayed the start of construction a few times. In a future blog post, I will go through in further detail, some of the struggles that SunRail has had to deal with to get to the point that it is at now.

On opening day, riders flocked to SunRail stations to take advantage of free service, which will run through May 16. Trains were crowded to capacity on all trips on May 1, causing delays and even passengers being turned away from full trains. Service on May 2 was less intense, with most trains running on time. As with the grand opening of many transit modes, ridership tends to explode on opening day, and then level out to regular patterns after about a couple months of revenue service.

After May 16, revenue service on SunRail will begin. One-way and Round-trip tickets are available, as well as a reloadable “SunCard” that is valid for 7-days, 30-days, and 1-year respectively. All tickets operate on a “tap and go” smartcard system that is similar to Ventra in Chicago.

So the big question remains, will SunRail be a hit with commuters? Or will it fizzle into “Boondoggle” territory?

Want to read more about SunRail’s opening day? Here’s a blog post from Metro Jacksonville.

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