Monday, May 13, 2019

Try downloading SunRail's new app

SunRail’s App is up and running.

We just downloaded the app today (5/13) on our iPhone and it looks pretty good. (Just go to the app store and type SunRail. We’re told it also works on Android smartphones.)

It’s just a shame that it has taken this long because many people have been clamoring for an app since SunRail’s launch. Riders on the move need an app, not the pseudo dingbat SunRail had for years.

The previous management at SunRail said an app wasn’t needed. That really made no sense since every company or organization has an app for the convenience of fans.

Credit for making the decision to create this app should rightly go to SunRail CEO Nicola Liquori who has developed a reputation for cutting through the silliness to get things done.

She was the leader who approved the text alert system to notify riders when there are service interruptions.

The debate over initiating a text message system lasted for a year and after Ms. Liquori came aboard, she moved ahead.

Sadly Ms. Liquori doesn’t have the budget or the authority to expand service to weekends and late nights, but she was the first SunRail executive to publicly admit the lack of weekend service was a major pain point for riders and would-be riders.

Now that the app is available, we would love your feedback on its functionality.
See you on The Rail.

Monday, May 6, 2019

SunRail repairs and delays may continue through Tuesday

Monday (5/6) got off to a rocky start for many SunRail riders because a downed power line damaged train signals and control systems from Sanford to Longwood.

The storm damaged some railroad crossing gates where crews had to use flags to stop the traffic and usher the trains through the crossing. The reduced speeds slowed down train traffic throughout the 49-mile SunRail system.

The morning delays were made even worse when a SunRail train hit a car that was on the tracks around 8:30 a.m. No one was hurt in that wreck.

The storm damage has proven to be the biggest problem on Monday.
A SunRail spokesman said, “Crews are working to fix the damage and resulting outages, which are fairly extensive.

“The work will last throughout the day, meaning delays will persist during off-peak times today, as well as affect the afternoon peak, half hour schedule. The repair work is likely to extend into tomorrow and possibly Wednesday, but the delays are expected to be shorter as more of the system comes back online.”

Despite the situation on Monday, SunRail has a strong record of meeting train schedules, as the accompanying chart shows a greater than 95% on-time record.

To stay informed, please check, SunRail on Twitter, or to receive SunRail text message alerts sent directly to your mobile device, text SunRail to 31996 to subscribe.

The text message system, which was requested by riders, has proven to be very helpful. This morning, the first warning regarding problems and delays was transmitted at 5:02.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Happy birthday, SunRail!

What a difference 5 years make!

We clearly remember the pre-dawn darkness of the morning of May 1, 2014 when we boarded the first regularly scheduled northbound train departing from the Sand Lake Road SunRail station.

You would have thought it was a moon launch from Cape Canaveral. The station and the train were packed with reporters, railfans and some genuine commuters seeking a less stressful way of getting to work.

The first few days of SunRail service were amazing – almost overwhelming. So many people tried SunRail during the first weeks that extra trains were added to accommodate the overflow crowds.

The excitement was understandable because local train service for the Orlando metro area – an idea that had been dreamed about and debated for decades – opened a new era for Central Florida. SunRail created a new transportation corridor along the I-4 corridor, one of the nation’s fastest growing areas.

From its first day, SunRail connected three counties and most of this region’s major employers, including downtown Orlando, Orlando Health and Advent Health (formerly Florida Hospital) downtown Orlando and the Sand Lake Road station, which has a quick bus connection to Orlando International Airport. It’s noteworthy that SunRail also attracts riders from neighboring Lake and Polk counties. They would rather ride the train that fight congestion on I-4 and other highways.

Last summer SunRail grew by 4 stations – to a total of 16 – thanks to the Southern Expansion into Osceola County (and connected a fourth county). That expansion nearly doubled SunRail’s daily ridership to the point that on many mornings and afternoons there is standing-room only at some train stations.

Looking out the train window during the past 5 years it’s easy to see how SunRail has super-charged growth in Central Florida. Take Maitland station, for example. Five years ago, there was nothing at that station. Today, there’s an attractive apartment complex next to the station. Apartment complexes have also been built at the Lake Mary, Longwood, and Lynx Central Station. More Transportation-Oriented Developments are under construction at Tupperware and Sand Lake Road. Plans are also in the works for DeBary and Kissimmee.

The billions in new construction have meant more real-estate tax money to improve the quality of life in the counties where SunRail operates.

Though SunRail was launched mainly to serve commuters, it has also developed a strong following of leisure riders heading to lunch in Winter, Sanford, and Kissimmee; the museums and theaters at Loch Haven Park, and sporting, cultural events and date nights in downtown Orlando and other destinations along the SunRail corridor.

While the launch of SunRail may not be quite as big a deal as the opening of the Magic Kingdom, it has changed Central Florida. SunRail at 5 years old shows a bright and promising future. As Central Florida leaders work to embrace the opportunities ahead, SunRail has the potential to connect the region even more.

For more information, click here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Riders deserve clean SunRail stations

SunRail will celebrate its 5th anniversary in a few days. Before that happens, can somebody please clean the SunRail stations at Lynx Central Station and in Sanford?

The accompanying photo was taken at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday (4/24) on the northbound platform at Lynx Central Station. There was trash on the platform and the fenced area between the platform and the neighboring apartment complex.

It’s clear the platform area had not been cleared in a long time. Some trash has blown onto the railroad tracks.

One problem complicating the situation is that homeless people camp at the station overnight. Many sleep in the station on flattened cardboard boxes. Some sleeping pads were still on the platform Wednesday morning.

There are mystery substances smeared on the platform. The platform needs daily power washing.

Every morning hundreds of people get off SunRail trains and walk through this mess on the way to the sprawling Orange County Courthouse. In a few months, this station also will be used by people headed Creative Village and the downtown campus of the University of Central Florida and Valencia College.

The maintenance issue in Sanford is not as egregious as Lynx, but it is still very serious. A few weeks ago, we wrote about litter at that station. The biggest pieces of litter have been picked up, but the bus loop next to the station is strewn with thousands – no exaggeration – of cigarette butts. (See the accompanying photo.) Many of these cigarette butts have been faded by the weather, so it’s clear they have been there for a long time.

A Sanford official told us that one reason for the problem is that the federal Department of Homeland Security won’t let the city deploy cigarette butt receptacles because terrorists can use them to hide bombs. He pointed out that’s why they have see-though trash receptacles with transparent bags.

Good point!

That rule applies to all the SunRail stations, such as the one at Sand Lake Road where you would be hard-pressed to find two dozen cigarette butts or any trash.

How does Sand Lake Road stay so clean?

“I just stay on top of it,” said the Sand Lake Road maintenance man that everybody knows as Dan.

Cigarette butts are not just unsightly, they are an environmental hazard. Though cigarette butts and filters look like cotton, they aren’t. They’re plastic. We were surprised to learn that cigarette butts make up more than one-third of the litter that is collected annually worldwide.

The discarded cigarette butts leach toxic chemicals, including arsenic and lead into the soil and water. There are huge stormwater pipes at the train station. 
Waste from the station ends up in nearby Lake Monroe. It’s ironic that beautiful mosaics of alligators and manatees decorate the sidewalk at the Sanford SunRail bus loop.

SunRail it’s addressing the maintenance issues at Lynx with contractors who are supposed to do the work. SunRail officials also said they’re discussing the issues at Sanford SunRail with the City of Sanford and Seminole County.

The maintenance at the Sand Lake Road station is the gold standard that should be applied throughout the system.

Please get ‘er done and keep those stations clean. The riders and the community deserve it.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Why Osceola residents need to vote "for" SunRail

If you’re an Osceola County resident who rides SunRail, please read this article.

Osceola County is holding a special election on May 21st to ask residents to support a referendum that can help pay for and improve public transportation – SunRail and Lynx.

Please vote “for” this referendum that will increase the county sales tax by one penny.

If approved, this tax would raise $67 million per year.

This money will go for transportation – including SunRail and Lynx service in Osceola County. 

In case you didn’t know it, the Florida Department of Transportation is subsidizing SunRail until 2021, when it will be the responsibility of Osceola and the other SunRail partners – Orlando, Orange, Seminole, and Volusia counties – to pick up the tab.

No public transit system in the world can pay for operations solely from the fare box. Typically, a transit system can pay about 30 percent of the costs from fares. Beyond that, they need government support.

Without a dedicated funding source, SunRail would have to go from county to county every year begging commissioners for enough money to keep running. That’s what Lynx has been doing for years, which is why our public bus system is barely scraping by.

Remember, public transit is a service. The police and fire are also very expensive services paid for by the government. Unlike police and fire, transit raises some of the money needed to pay for its operating costs. Keep in mind that all transportation – from the street outside your house to the airlines – receive government subsidies.

No doubt you can see every day how many Osceola residents ride SunRail.

The SunRail train has been a huge hit since last summer when it started serving stations at Tupperware, Kissimmee, and Poinciana. Folks boarding at those stations and Meadow Woods in Orange County have nearly doubled SunRail’s daily ridership.

Granted adding a penny to the sales tax will put a squeeze on some residents. But the sacrifice is worth it because communities with a strong transportation system – both roads and public transit – are attractive to investors and that means more employers; more and better employment opportunities, and a better standard of living for everyone.

We strongly encourage Osceola riders you and your neighbors to vote “for” this referendum on May 21st.

Hopefully, Orlando, Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties will soon follow Osceola’s leadership to create dedicated funding sources for public transportation.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Weekend SunRail requires fixing the devil in the details

Riders and would-be riders ask us why SunRail doesn’t run on Saturdays and Sundays.

Typically, we respond that SunRail doesn’t have money in its budget for weekend operations.

There is another reason that’s a little more complicated.

The devil is in the details of the joint-operating agreement signed by the state and Central Florida’s local governments – known as the local funding partners (Orlando, Orange, Seminole, Volusia, and Osceola counties).

You can read that agreement by clicking here.

On page 20, under Base Service Standards, subsection B., it reads: “The Commuter Rail System will not provide any train service between midnight and 5 a.m., legal holidays, and Saturdays and Sundays.”

This clause helps to explain why there is no money to help pay for weekend or late-night service.

The SunRail Commission – the local elected officials who represent the funding partners – is expected to update the operating agreement this year.

Hopefully, they will remember to update this clause to create an opportunity for weekend service.

See you on The Rail Monday to Friday.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Saddle up on SunRail for a "daycation" cattle drive

Mark Monday, March 18th in your datebook.

Get the day off from work, play hooky from school, and take SunRail to a “daycation” in Kissimmee to enjoy a rare event – a real deal cattle drive. (Cue “Rawhide”)

Our friends at Florida Daycations and Events have packaged an experience for visitors that will immerse them in the frontier spirit and culture that created Kissimmee. To sign up, click here.

We’re excited because until now, the Kissimmee cattle drive has been mainly a local event for Osceola residents.

Thanks to SunRail -- which started running into Osceola County last summer -- it’s easy for people throughout Central Florida to ride down to Kissimmee and saddle up. (Well maybe not saddle up, but you know what we mean.)

Many people may not realize that Florida is one of the biggest cattle states in the country, and Kissimmee is the heart of Florida cattle country.

Cowboys still live in Osceola County. Usually, you need to drive down to southern Osceola near Kenansville to see working cowboys. But on March 18th there will be real cowboys and cowgirls and cattle lumbering down Broadway in the heart of Historic Downtown Kissimmee.

The experience Florida Daycations and Events packaged involves much more than witnessing the cattle drive but also soaking up Kissimmee’s frontier spirit and history.

Florida Daycations and Events guests will get to eat like a cowboy; go to a cowboy hoedown street party. There is a herd of extras, including a VIP area for Florida Daycations and Events guests. Most of all, it’s going to be fun!

For more details, and to sign up, click here.

See you in Kissimmee on March 18.