Saturday, May 26, 2018

SunRail train debuts today

Orlando Sentinel

Today is the day mass-transit enthusiasts have been waiting for in Metro Orlando for decades: the SunRail commuter train starts running for real.

But on its inaugural day, it could feel more like a new theme-park attraction — for locals — as retirees and other curious Central Floridians join commuters riding the train.

"We just want to go out and then back," said Ron VanKleeck, an 85-year-old retired mechanic who lives with his wife about 4 miles from the Lake Mary station.

The first SunRail train was to take on its initial passengers at 5:06 a.m. in Sanford, then head south, eventually stopping about an hour later at Sand Lake Road, the last of 12 stations.

Shortly after 6 a.m., that train will move north, taking anyone who was waiting at Sand Lake. During the morning and evening peak hours, up to five trains will be rolling along the corridor's 12 stations.

SunRail officials have shied from making any ridership guesses for Day One, though they expect to eventually average more than 4,300 passengers daily. With free rides during its first 12 days of operation, SunRail could top that goal.

Urban planner Eliza Harris intends to be one of those riders. She lives in the Lake Como area a couple of miles east of downtown Orlando, where she works. She rides her bike to her job, so she has no need for SunRail, which largely parallels Interstate 4 as it goes north to south in the region. But she contends the $1.2 billion operation is a game changer.

If successful, she said, the train could lead to denser, more compact development along its 31.5-mile route, as well as take cars off the road. And one fewer car, she said, actually translates into more than one fewer trip.

"It's also when you go out to lunch, run errands from the office. You're not in a car," Harris said.

SunRail is counting on attracting many of its riders from I-4, Central Florida's main transportation artery since opening in 1965, six years before Disney World debuted about 20 miles down the road from downtown. I-4 has grown increasingly clogged through the decades and is about to undergo a $2.1 billion makeover through downtown.

The construction will add four toll lanes down the middle of the highway. It could start late next year and last until 2021. That's a long time to battle building-related congestion, SunRail proponents say, providing opportunity to convert motorists into train commuters.

SunRail's debut comes after several unsuccessful attempts to start a system stretching back to the 1980s, and it is the region's first fixed-rail commuter mass-transit operation.

SunRail operators envision the train, with its free Wi-Fi and spacious, air-conditioned cars, rolling along the tracks as car and truck drivers fume in snarled traffic.

Of course, there could be problems with SunRail, too, even though its celebratory run on Wednesday carrying area leaders and media went off flawlessly. The train was on time the entire way, and passengers were impressed with its smooth ride and comfortable interior.

Detractors predict SunRail will be a waste of taxpayer money because Central Florida residents are too enamored of their cars to leave them for a train.

Comments
Family: Virginia police shooting video raises more questions

Family: Virginia police shooting video raises more questions

The family of a young, black Virginia man who was fatally shot by police while naked and unarmed says the release of body-camera footage has brought more questions than answers
Updated: 1 hour ago
Palin's son seeks to bar media in assault proceedings

Palin's son seeks to bar media in assault proceedings

The eldest son of former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is seeking to bar the media from covering court hearings after he was accused of assaulting his father last year
Updated: 1 hour ago
Father, son plead guilty to fraud involving secretive sect

Father, son plead guilty to fraud involving secretive sect

A father and son have pleaded guilty to wire fraud related to an unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants in a secretive sect say was part of a plan to keep money flowing into the church
Updated: 1 hour ago
Police: Suspected gunman spoke online about demon possession

Police: Suspected gunman spoke online about demon possession

Authorities say a Facebook page in which a man claims his television is possessed by the devil belongs to the man suspected of shooting three people at an Oklahoma City restaurant before being killed by two armed bystanders.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Trump stays out of messy House immigration fight

Trump stays out of messy House immigration fight

President Donald Trump is steering clear of messy House immigration fight over the wall and young "Dreamer" immigrants
Updated: 1 hour ago
Canceled summit raises stakes for China over North Korea

Canceled summit raises stakes for China over North Korea

President Donald Trump's withdrawal from his planned summit with North Korea raises the stakes for China to show that it can steer the North toward easing tensions over its nuclear program
Updated: 1 hour ago
Canceled summit raises stakes for China over North Korea

Canceled summit raises stakes for China over North Korea

President Donald Trump's withdrawal from his planned summit with North Korea raises the stakes for China to show that it can steer the North toward easing tensions over its nuclear program
Updated: 1 hour ago
Police: Wounded middle school student in critical condition

Police: Wounded middle school student in critical condition

Authorities say a female student wounded in an Indianapolis-area middle school shooting is in critical condition and a teacher who was also shot is in good condition.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Ireland: Exit polls predict win for repealing abortion ban

Ireland: Exit polls predict win for repealing abortion ban

Official counting is set to begin in Ireland's historic abortion rights referendum, with two exit polls predicting an overwhelming victory for those seeking to end the country's strict ban
Updated: 2 hours ago
Ireland: Exit polls predict win for repealing abortion ban

Ireland: Exit polls predict win for repealing abortion ban

Official counting is set to begin in Ireland's historic abortion rights referendum, with two exit polls predicting an overwhelming victory for those seeking to end the country's strict ban
Updated: 2 hours ago