Saturday, February 20, 2016

SunRail to the airport might look different

SunRail to Orlando International Airport may not look anything like the SunRail train we’re accustomed to riding.

During the SunRail Customer Advisory Committee meeting on Friday SunRail Project Manager Tawny Olore said her team is still considering the best way to transport SunRail riders to the airport.

Some of the options being studied include:
·         A diesel multiple unit, or DMU (a passenger train coach with a self-contained diesel engine that would not need a locomotive)
Charlotte's light rail
·         A light-rail train, similar to the train in Charlotte, N.C.
·         An automated people-mover train, similar to the ones currently in use at Orlando International Airport
·         Bus rapid transit system, similar to the free LYMMO buses in downtown Orlando.

SunRail could even decide to have every other train make a side trip to the airport.

SunRail riders headed to the airport might transfer to the airport link at the existing Sand Lake Road or Altamonte Springs station, at the station that will be built in Meadow Woods in south Orange County, or even special airport transfer station.

Much of the airport link discussion focuses on an existing railroad track spur that connects to the SunRail corridor south of the current Sand Lake Road SunRail station. That spur is currently used by trains hauling coal to the Orlando Utilities Commission power plant in east Orange County. Those tracks are owned by OUC, which is owned by the city of Orlando.

SunRail riders headed to the airport would get off at the intermodal terminal that is currently under construction on airport property. That’s the same intermodal station that will be the last stop for the Brightline express train (formerly known as All Aboard Florida) connecting Orlando and Miami, with stops in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

SunRail leaders said they hope to complete the airport link by 2020, even though it has not been designed or funded. Many say they consider the airport link to be crucial to attract more riders to SunRail. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said that SunRail needs to run 7 days a week once it connects to the airport.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Making SunRail meetings more convenient for the public

We gave SunRail/FDOT a piece of our mind at Friday’s SunRail Customer Advisory Committee meeting.

Though state law requires the meetings to be open to the public, very few members of the “public” actually attend because the meetings are called to order at 9 o’clock on Friday morning when most people are at work. The accompanying photo shows the “public” at Friday’s meeting in the LYNX offices at downtown Orlando’s LYNX Central Station.

We told the FDOT/SunRail bosses that it’s disingenuous to hold the “public” meeting at such an inconvenient time if they’re serious about wanting to hear concerns from the public.

(Don’t get us wrong, CAC members should be commended for vigorously sharing rider concerns with the SunRail bosses. Not that the bosses do anything about those concerns.)

Guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the folks running “America’s most inconvenient railroad” would hold a public meeting at an inconvenient time. 

The SunRail bosses quickly passed the buck to the CAC members – lay people who are regular SunRail riders – and told them they could set the meeting for any time.

CAC members didn’t blink. They quickly agreed that going forward CAC will hold two of their four quarterly meetings in the morning and two after work when more members of the public – both riders and would-be riders – can attend.

Score 1 point for the “public.”

Keep watching this space for more information on upcoming SunRail meetings.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

SunRail when we want it, not when they tell us to ride

We love the Orlando Magic. The team is a source of pride that helps unite the community. But the team’s performance is disappointing. The Magic make us mad because they lose so often.

That’s the same way we feel about SunRail.

We love SunRail. It has the potential to be a great community asset. While SunRail has a fantastic on-time record, its bare-bones workday schedule and lack of late-night and weekend service are ridiculous and harm ridership.

We’re disappointed with SunRail’s leadership because this community needs much more service than we’re receiving.

Recently some visitors to the SunRailRiders Facebook page complained that we’re too critical of SunRail. Sadly, our intentions have been misunderstood, but the point is this: SunRail wasn’t built for engineers, or for politicians. It was created to serve this community.

About a year ago during a SunRail Commission meeting Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs defended SunRail’s limited service. She said SunRail was created as a “commuter” train. That’s why it concentrated on rush-hour service.

That’s true Mrs. Jacobs. But now the community is speaking. We want a train that we can use when we need it, not when a politician or FDOT manager tells us to use it.

We want weekend service. We want more trains during the day. We want trains late at night. Those who want more service aren’t just folks who want to party in downtown Orlando, or go the Winter Park Farmers Market on Saturday morning.

Thousands of our neighbors work weekends -- at hospitals, the airport and in the hospitality industry. Many don’t own cars. When SunRail isn’t running their travel time doubles.

Yet politicians and SunRail/FDOT managers ignore what the people want. The topic of improving the schedule doesn’t get much discussion during SunRail Commission meetings.

Every day that passes brings us one day closer to a day of reckoning. Until May 1, 2021 the state foots a major portion of the bill to run SunRail. After that, the expenses become the obligation of SunRail’s local funding partners -- Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties and the city of Orlando. By 2021 that annual bill will be about $49 million. Ideally, the fare box will pay 30 percent.

This means local politicians will need courage and creativity to raise about $30 million annually. Unless there’s extremely strong support within the community, that SunRail funding issue will not go anywhere.

Most people in this community have never ridden SunRail. Many who don’t need SunRail to get to and from 9 to 5 jobs in downtown Orlando would like to try it but they can’t because the train doesn’t run late at night or on weekends.

If people don’t experience SunRail and see how it can make their lives easier, why would they support taxes to keep SunRail in business?

Drastically improving the train’s schedule is the only way to save SunRail. We want SunRail to not just survive. We want it to thrive.

SunRail is much more than a fun train ride. Effective transportation is critical to this region’s economic health. A robust public transit system – SunRail, LYNX and Votran – is essential.

If the people currently managing SunRail can’t figure out how to run trains more frequently during the day; late at night, and on the weekends and holidays, then replace them.

SunRail needs an improved schedule now. We deserve it. We demand it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What to do when SunRail wastes your time

One of SunRail’s major drawbacks is there are 2 to 2 ½-hour gaps between trains during daytime off-peak hours.

Sanford station
To help stranded riders we’ve come up with a list of 5 things you can do to occupy yourself during that 2-hour wait.
1.    Wonder what SunRail managers were thinking when they came up with this jacked up schedule.
2.    Count how many railroad ties are in the SunRail station.
3.    Memorize the number on the back of your SunRail ticket.
4.    Try to recall the first and last names of your elementary school teachers.

5.    Practice saying the alphabet backwards.