Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What's with SunRail's new executive director

How come SunRail just named its first executive director?

That’s one of several questions that we recently presented to Florida Department of Transportation officials. See the responses provided by an FDOT spokeswoman: 

QUESTION: Help me understand the difference between what Tawny has been doing and what this new executive director will do?  
SunRail Executive Director Nicola Liquori
ANSWER: The Executive Director is an FDOT employee with overall responsibility for SunRail, ensuring that the mission of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission and SunRail is accomplished consistent with Department goals and objectives. This includes oversight of daily operations, expansion of the system through Phases II and III, increasing ridership while managing costs, maintaining performance benchmarks, as well as administrative, financial and organizational management activities.  Tawny Olore is a consultant who provides guidance and support to the SunRail team. Like all SunRail employees and consultants, Ms. Olore will report to the Executive Director. 
QUESTION: Does SunRail's new executive director have passenger rail experience?  
ANSWER: SunRail’s executive director has 14 years of experience in user-financed transportation with FDOT at Florida’s Turnpike. This experience includes managing the financial aspects of a program with a $5 billion – 5-year capital plan, but also the daily operations of a 483-mile toll system with over 2.5 million transactions per day, management of eight service plazas along the Turnpike mainline and management of business development programs.

The SunRail team collectively has many years of passenger rail experience – the Executive Director brings the management experience of a complex transportation program. This experience will be key now that SunRail is operating a major commuter line (phase I), undertaking a major construction project (phase II) and beginning the development process for a new project (phase III).

QUESTION: Will SunRail's new executive director be focused on helping SunRail reach 7-day and late night service?

ANSWER: Yes, SunRail is at a critical time as the department begins Phase 2 South construction and planning for future expansions like to the Orlando International Airport and extensions of service such as possible nights and weekend service.

QUESTION: What happens to this executive director if the SunRail Commission (elected officials) decide to take over local management of the train system before 2021?
ANSWER: This is an item for future discussion. 

Use your SunRail ticket to unlock art treasure

Did you know that your SunRail ticket is a key to one of Florida’s greatest art treasures?

Seriously, it is.

From now and through September you can present your SunRail ticket for free admission to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, 445 N. Park Ave. make sure you tell them you’re a SunRailRiders fan.

The museum -- only a 5-minute stroll from the Winter Park SunRail train platform -- is home of one of this nation’s most eye-popping collections of “leaded-glass” (stained glass) windows.

Don’t yawn. We didn’t realize what we were missing until we visited the Morse Museum last year. The works on display at this museum are stunning and you don’t have to be an art expert to enjoy the collection.

The museum showcases the opalescent glass windows and designs of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Surely you’ve heard of Tiffany & Co.? That business was founded by his family.

Our favorite part of the museum is the Tiffany Chapel, an awesome collection of mosaic art, leaded glass windows and Byzantine architecture that was originally created for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. It narrowly escaped destruction and has now been reconstructed in the Morse Museum. When you see it in person, you’ll understand why we’re crazy about it.

For more information on the museum and its programs, including tours, please click here.

The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Please note that the Morse Museum is usually closed on Mondays.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Who the heck is running SunRail?

Funny thing happened this week during the SunRail Customer Advisory Committee meeting.

The Florida Department of Transportation named  Nicola Liquori as the first-ever executive director of SunRail.

The announcement of the appointment was made several hours before the advisory committee met on Tuesday. For some baffling reason, the appointment information was not shared with advisory committee members who advocate for SunRail riders. Probably just a minor oversight, right?

Until now, we’ve been under the impression that FDOT engineer Tawny Olore was the main person calling the shots for SunRail. Now we get Nicola Liquori, who interestingly, comes to SunRail from Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise – a highway agency.

Florida’s Turnpike? Or to put it in the words of reader Simon Duvall: “Wouldn’t a person with a railroad background be a better choice?”

One would think so, especially since FDOT Nicola Liquori’s responsibilities at SunRail will include: finances, construction, maintenance, operations, rail corridors and safety.

It’s also curious this announcement was made about a month since Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who chairs the SunRail Commission, raised the idea of having local government take over the management of SunRail now instead of waiting until 2021 when FDOT funding for the rail system runs out.

A rider asked us if the executive director appointment is good or bad for SunRail riders. Hard to say. If Nicola Liquori is going to focus on expanding the train service to weekends and late-night service, that would be excellent.

But if she’s just another empty suit and a Rick Scott flunky, then she may as well stay out on the Turnpike collecting tolls.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sound off Tuesday for better SunRail service

The decision to provide special SunRail service on Sunday to support the massive Pulse memorial event at Orlando’s Lake Eola in Orlando was the right call.

It is unfortunate that a special call had to be made, because SunRail should always be running 7 days per week. SunRail is a vital transportation resource, and the need for the train is not limited to Monday to Friday rush hours.

If you want to SunRail running on the weekends and late at night, please make your voice heard this Tuesday at SunRail’s Customer Advisory Committee meeting. This is one of the key forums for getting feedback from the public about the train service.

We attend their meetings and we know this committee, comprised of people who regularly ride SunRail, has been fighting valiantly to expand and improve train service. But they can’t do the job alone. They need the voices of more riders to back them up.

The beautiful thing about Tuesday’s meeting is that for the first time it will be held after business hours making it more convenient for more “regular” people to attend. Up to now the meetings were held in the morning and typically there were only two or three “regular” folks there.

Tuesday’s meeting begins at 5 p.m. in the LYNX office building at the LYNX Central Station, a major train and bus stop. This should make it easy for people to be able to attend the meeting and still catch the train or bus to go home.

This advisory committee meets once every three months, so please don’t miss this opportunity to attend and sound off.

See you at the meeting.