Transit Tourism – Orlando, FL via SunRail – Part 1

In my 2nd installment of Transit Tourism, I’m going to share my experience using the SunRail Commuter Rail line in Orlando, FL. I was originally not planning to hop aboard SunRail until much later in the year (likely as part of a transit trip utilizing the HART bus system in Tampa, Megabus going from Tampa to Orlando, and using SunRail and the LYNX bus system while in the Orlando area), but decided last-minute to do so after visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom last week (Wednesday, May 14 to be exact).

This post will be the first of five parts; with this post documenting my observations at the Sand Lake Rd station, the second part documenting my journey to downtown Orlando, the third part documenting my brief layover in downtown, the fourth part documenting my return trip to Sand Lake Rd, and the fifth going over various points of interest that can be easily accessed via the SunRail corridor. Later on, I’ll also have a follow-up post that will wrap everything up in the series and provide some insight into what the Tampa Bay area can learn from SunRail, and what efforts are being done now to try and get a similar commuter rail service into the area.

Since Sand Lake Rd isn’t too far from Walt Disney World, I decided to head over to the Sand Lake Rd station, which is equipped with a park-n-ride lot so that I wouldn’t have to worry about hassling with bulilding traffic on I-4 towards downtown Orlando. All suburban SunRail stations have park-n-ride lots to allow customers to travel to and from downtown without having to use their vehicles. A full list of stations with park-n-ride lots can be accessed through the SunRail website.

The Sand Lake Rd SunRail station and LYNX bus stop area. A Park-N-Ride lot is to my right. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. May, 2014.
The Sand Lake Rd SunRail station and LYNX bus stop area. A Park-N-Ride lot is to my right. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. May, 2014.

Once at the Sand Lake Rd station, I began to take a few photos of the station and its corresponding bus stop (pictured above). I easily observed several CSX freight cars sitting along the freight tracks next to and to the south of the station platforms. As I mentioned in my previous post about SunRail, the Florida Department of Transportation spent many months negotiating with CSX Transportation to utilize their tracks through the Orlando metro area in order to operate SunRail. As a result of SunRail, the rail corridor from Sand Lake Rd to DeBary has been double-tracked and freight rail operations are now limited to the overnights.

As I finished taking my photos of the station, I noticed more and more customers begining to trickle into the station platform area. It then donned on me that SunRail was still operating on its two-week fare-free period. Coincidentally, at that moment, a SunRail ambassador approached me and asked if I wanted a schedule and transit guide, which I graciously accepted. I was also able to confirm with the ambassador that SunRail indeed was still running fare-free rides (the fare-free period ended on Friday, May 16). After spending several minutes reading the schedule, I decided that I would take a trip to the LYNX Central Station in downtown Orlando. After all, despite having visited the Orlando metro area numerous times in the past, I never once recalled visiting downtown Orlando. So why not? There was no additional cost!

Crowds build up on the platform as they await the arrival of the first afternoon train to DeBary. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. May, 2014.
Crowds build up on the platform as they await the arrival of the first afternoon train to DeBary. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. May, 2014.

Because it was still the fare-free period, some trains along the SunRail corridor were delayed. In fact, as I mentioned in my previous post, the first two days of fare-free ridership resulted in massive crowds at every station, and some customers had to be turned away from full trains during the first day of service. In my case, the crowds were not as massive as the first week, but still enough to fill many trains to capacity. The train I ended up boarding towards DeBary (the 4:15pm northbound departure) was delayed by approximately 10 minutes due to the crowds. However, this did not stop many using the service, even as the fare-free period began to wind down.

As I waited for the train, I glanced at the schedule that I was handed earlier. I decided that I was going to take the 5:18pm southbound departure from the LYNX Central Station for my return trip to Sand Lake Rd, instead of the 4:48pm departure. Being that the northbound train I was waiting for likely would not arrive at the LYNX station until closer to 4:35 or 4:40pm due to the delays, I wanted to have more time to be able to look around the LYNX station and its surounding landscape in downtown Orlando. So I calculated about a 35 minute layover in downtown as a result.

The crowds board the train. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. May, 2014.
The crowds board the train. Photo Credit: HARTride 2012. May, 2014.

Warning announcements on the PA system alerted me to the approaching train. Customers that had not yet crossed the tracks onto the departure platform made a last minute dash to be able to board (this was not a good decision due to safety reasons). Customers who were already on the departure platform made sure they were ready to board. Families with children made sure that all of their children were in tow, but away from the edge of the platform. As the train got closer to the platform, I attempted to capture some video footage with my smartphone. Let’s just say that this attempt didn’t work out too well. However, I did manage to salvage what I thought would be a good clip to put into a future website intro video. We’ll see how that works out later on.

When the train came to a full stop, another announcement played on the PA system to let departing customers know to first allow arriving customers to disembark first. On any transit system, this is common courtesy to allow arriving customers exit the train first, especially during high-traffic hours. I decided to wait a little while to allow others to board first, especially those who are elderly and those who have a disability or are otherwise limited in mobility. Once I noticed that a majority of customers had boarded the train, I went ahead and hopped on so that I could try and find a seat.

Please note once again that this is the first of five parts to the series. It would have taken me a lot longer to write up this post otherwise. I hope to have the second installment up by Memorial Day. In the meantime, please have a look at my SunRail and LYNX photo albums on my Facebook page! All of the photos that you see in my blog posts are posted on my Facebook page. Also, please don’t forget to “like” my Facebook page, and follow me on Twitter @TampaBayTransit.

Enjoy your day!

HARTride 2012

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