Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why it took SunRail time to recover from Irma

With the threat of Hurricane Maria in our future, many people want to know why it took SunRail so long to recover after Central Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma.

Here is how an FDOT spokesman explained the steps taken to get SunRail rolling again after the mega storm:

“There were many RR crossing without power and we did not want to open SunRail service until we believed we could operate safely on the corridor. Also, there were more than 100 trees that had fallen onto the tracks that had to be removed.

“The trains people saw on Sunday were test trains. This was done to give SunRail a reading of how well we could navigate the corridor on Monday. It also allowed trains to make a first pass over the railroad tracks to break them in again, so to speak, after train service had been away, due the storm.

“Equipment needed to be checked, gates at RR crossings installed and put back into service, everything SunRail had to do to prepare for the storm had to be revisited to prepare for service.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Guess how much it costs to extend SunRail to Daytona Beach?

People always say they wish SunRail went all the way to Daytona Beach, instead of ending in DeBary.
World's most famous beach

At a SunRail commission meeting Wednesday morning Volusia County Council Member Pat Patterson said it would cost $1 billion to extend the train service to Daytona Beach. Yes, that’s billion, as in B.

Right now no one can come up with the $77 million it would cost to extend SunRail to the Volusia County seat in DeLand.

So, in other words it ain’t happening. Or at least it won’t happen any time soon.

We’re sure our great grandchildren will enjoy taking SunRail to the beach.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Orlando doesn't care about the safety of SunRail riders

It will be a long time before this dangerous crossing problem is solved for people who get off the southbound SunRail train at Church Street.

SunRail riders forced to cross dangerous South Street
On Monday, the Orlando City Council approved an agreement that will relocate that southbound platform inside the planned Lincoln Property high- rise building on Church Street. That's supposed to eliminate the need to cross South Street.

Don’t start cheering yet.

The agreement includes this sentence: “Lincoln agrees to have the station construction completed and the easements conveyed by Dec. 31, 2024.”

Yup, 2024. This is assuming there's no downturn in the economy that would cause this project to be delayed or canceled. (We still remember the wonderful plans Lou Pearlman had for the Church Street complex.)

SunRail started carrying riders on May 2014. 

Planned high rise

From the very first day, riders getting off at Church Street’s southbound SunRail platform complained that there was no safe or easy way to cross busy South Street to reach their downtown destinations.

Now we see that it will take up to 7 more years to fix this problem.

Good going SunRail and Orlando!

We can see how much you value the safety and convenience of riders.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SunRail schedule derails the airport campaign

We really like SunRail’s “Train to the Plane” campaign to encourage more people to use the commuter train to reach Orlando International Airport.

Lynx bus 111 is pretty much a straight shot to the airport from the SunRail Sand Lake Road station. It’s less than 10 minutes between the train station and the airport terminal. Plus, you can get a free transfer from SunRail to ride the Lynx bus. That’s a pretty sweet deal.

The only problem is the train.

SunRail is America’s “most inconvenient train”.

Between the morning and evening rush hours there are SunRail service gaps of up to 2 ½ hours. On weekdays, the last northbound train leaves Sand Lake Road at 9:15 p.m. Worst yet, SunRail DOES NOT run on weekends or holidays.

For a few travelers to and from the airport, SunRail might work – especially if they don’t encounter flight delays.

For most, it is risky to include SunRail in your airport travel plans.

The train’s schedule has been a fundamental problem for SunRail since it launched operations more than three years ago. No wonder fewer than 2,000 ride the train daily.

The elected local officials who serve on the SunRail Commission proposed creating a rail link that would carry SunRail riders into the airport.

In an interview last year, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer – who chaired the SunRail commission at that time – said once SunRail had a rail link to the airport the train would HAVE TO run more frequently and on a 7-days a week schedule.

Extending SunRail to OIA is called Phase 3. The last we heard, that project is expected to cost at least $200 million. (Phase 2 southbound to Poinciana is expected to be completed by summer 2018.)

Here’s a bulletin for you.

That mythical SunRail Phase 3 is not going to happen. Or at least it’s not going to happen any time soon, despite the fact a special terminal has already been built at the airport for SunRail and other non-existent rail services.

Airport terminal for non-existent trains

Based on what we have seen so far from the Trump administration, it’s unlikely the feds will fork over the money needed to build and equip that airport rail link. A proposed SunRail extension to DeLand also is unlikely to happen because money isn’t forthcoming.

Like the pundits say: Elections have consequences.

Regardless, we can still make the train to the plane link viable.

Lynx is already doing its part providing frequent bus service to the Sand Lake Road station.

SunRail needs to cough up the money to run the train at least 18 hours a day and on the weekends.

That’s what Tri-Rail (South Florida’s version of SunRail) did for 20 years. They used a combination of the train and a bus and it worked pretty good. In fact, it was only until 2015 that they completed a rail link to Miami International Airport.

Improving SunRail’s schedule is essential to its survival.

In case you didn’t know, the clock is running out on SunRail.

The Florida Department of Transportation is paying SunRail’s operating cost until the summer of 2021. Then those expenses become the responsibility of Orlando, and Orange, Osceola and Volusia counties. SunRail’s daily ridership – fewer than 2,000 – is so low that the cost of collecting fares is more than the amount brought in with fares. It’s not the train. It’s the fault of the awful schedule.

Do you think taxpayers will pick up an annual tab of nearly $30 million for a train that runs bankers’ hours and only Monday through Friday?

We don’t.

That’s why the schedule needs to be fixed, not just for the airport, but for all the destinations on the SunRail corridor.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

SunRail safety spotlight

Marcees Kilpatrick shouldn’t have been next to the SunRail tracks on Friday when he was hit and killed by the commuter train last week.

I shouldn’t have been playing at the water company’s abandoned pumping station when I was Marcees’ age.

The pumping station was cool. It had ladders, catwalks, rusty machinery and huge empty tanks. Me and Craig used to pretend the station was our secret headquarters for cops and robbers and spy adventures.

There were hundreds of ways we could have died in the pumping station. Craig and I were lucky and survived childhood. Marcees did not.

Boys will be boys and we sometimes behave recklessly. When you’re 13 you assume you’ll live forever. Now we know that’s not true. Kids need the protection and guidance of adults.

To their credit, SunRail has been running an aggressive safety campaign for years. We urge FDOT managers to redouble those efforts and seek out and fence off other cut-throughs to discourage kids from getting on the tracks.

Hopefully everyone is sending out prayers for Marcees’ family. While you’re at it, please send prayers for the engineer and conductor operating the SunRail train that killed Marcees. When I was a kid, a friend’s dad was the engineer of a train that killed a man. The tragedy haunted that father and he died prematurely.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Orlando continues to ignore crossing hazard at SunRail's Church Street station

Since the first week of SunRail operations 3 years ago, riders realized there was a big problem at the Church Street station. It is the worst-designed station in the SunRail system.

As the accompanying photo shows, people getting off the train in the morning wind up playing “dodge-a-car” when they get off at the station’s southbound station.  There’s no proper pedestrian crossing for southbound passengers who need to get across South Street to reach their workplaces.

We’ve written about this dangerous situation several times. Click here to see one of our past articles.

Everybody knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. However, city traffic engineers expect people to walk 2 blocks out of their way to the closest marked pedestrian crossing on South Street. The engineers give a bunch of complicated reasons why there is no safe, marked pedestrian crossing at the southbound platform on South Street where riders need it.

You would think Orlando would care more, since the southbound SunRail platform is in the heart of downtown and it's one of the busiest places every morning on SunRail.

But don’t worry say the engineers and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, all the problems will be remedied when Lincoln Properties builds a 25-story hotel/office high-rise in the vacant lot on Garland Avenue, next to Church Street Ballroom and the railroad tracks.

Both the northbound and southbound SunRail platforms are supposed to be incorporated in the Lincoln Properties office/hotel high-rise complex and eliminate the need to cross South Street.

The developers said two years that they were almost ready to start construction. You see any signs of construction on that site?

Talk is cheap. When will officials take this pedestrian crossing hazard seriously?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Happy birthday SunRail - what happened?

Happy birthday, SunRail!

We had such high expectations for you when passenger service started May 1, 2014.

Those first couple of weeks of free service were crazy.

The trains were absolutely packed. Operators had to add trains to satisfy the demand.

Even after SunRail started requiring riders to pay the usage remained high, as people throughout the region realized how they could use SunRail for day trips to Winter Park’s trendy Park Avenue.

But then reality set in, and ridership slumped.

Even though there have been some recent ridership upticks, small upticks SunRail has settled into life as a bit of a disappointment. Fewer than 2,000 people use the system daily, even though planners predicted 4,600 boardings daily.

We’re rabid SunRail fans, but we would be lying if we didn’t say the ridership remains disappointing despite a fortune spend on consultants who are supposed to be getting more riders. During a SunRail meeting about a year ago a consultant said there are roughly 25,000 people living along the track corridor who could be using the train.

Despite the nightmarish driving conditions on Interstate 4, it’s understandable that more people don’t use the train.

SunRail is the most inconvenient passenger train in the country.

If you live in Seminole or Volusia counties and you work Monday to Friday bankers’ hours in downtown Orlando, SunRail works great.

If you’re a caregiver at Florida Hospital or at Orlando Regional Medical Center – two of the region’s biggest employers – you’re out of gas. The train schedule, doesn’t align with the real-world work schedules for many hospital staffers.

If you’re in the hospitality or service industries with a non-traditional schedule that includes late-night hours and weekends – you’re out of gas.

If you want to take the train down from Winter Park to attend events at downtown Orlando’s Amway Center, the new soccer stadium, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts or at Loch Haven Park cultural venues – you’re out of gas.

If you need to take the train to an appointment during the middle of the day – you’re out of gas. There are 2 ½-hour service gaps during the day.

We don’t know what our community’s leaders were thinking when they planned for a Monday to Friday public transit system. Worse yet, after three years they have no real plan of how to fix it.

We have got to improve the SunRail ridership with a sensible schedule or our train system will be out of gas.

Happy birthday!