Thursday, September 29, 2016

FDOT suffers blowback on DeLand SunRail fail

The Florida Department of Transportation experienced some serious blowback on Thursday from its decision to withdraw an application for a federal grant to extend SunRail service to DeLand.

The incoming fire came from the SunRail Commission of local elected officials charged with overseeing Central Florida’s commuter train.

Relations between the SunRail Commission and FDOT are normally affable. Things took a turn when Volusia County Council Member Pat Patterson expressed frustration that the TIGER grant application was pulled at the last minute. Patterson said he didn’t clearly understand the reason the application was pulled. Neither do we.

Earlier this year FDOT officials spoke glowingly about the TIGER grant application that was being prepared. This was to be the second year an application was submitted and FDOT officials said they thought there was a great chance for it to be approved. At the last minute, though, it wasn’t submitted to the feds.

Many people in Volusia County are understandably upset there is no timetable for doing the work needed to extend SunRail service north from DeBary to DeLand.

Patterson was not alone in his unhappiness. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who chairs the SunRail Commission; Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari and Osceola County Commission Chairwoman Viviana Janer all said FDOT should have notified them there was a problem so they could work together to solve it.

This hot potato landed in the lap of SunRail new CEO Nicola Liquori who had not joined SunRail when FDOT promised to submit the application. Ms. Liquori has already pledged to find the federal dollars needed for the project.

We’ll see what happens.

#SaturdaySunRail starts next week

#SaturdaySunRail starts Oct.8, just in time to provide easy transportation to the Come Out With Pride Festival at downtown Orlando’s Lake Eola.

During the big reveal on Thursday morning officials explained that between October and February SunRail will run Saturdays -- generally between 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Expect the schedule to change on a weekly basis to support large-scale events.

Stakeholders ranging from the Orlando Magic to Florida Hospital raised $250,000 to get #SaturdaySunRail started, but more money is needed. There’s even an opportunity for average people to put their money where their mouths are to help with sponsorships of $35 or more. To help sponsor #SaturdaySunRail, please click here.

Two years ago SunRailRiders led the petition campaign to get weekend service so we were happy to attend the official announcement of #SaturdaySunRail.

This new service is not perfect. The #SaturdaySunRail schedule supports leisure events, but it does little for the people who need SunRail to get to work in the hospitality industry, hospitals and Orlando International Airport.

Right now it’s critical that people take advantage of this Saturday service to encourage the political will necessary to expand Saturday service hours and begin Sunday service.

See you on The Rail.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Will SunRail be running for Come Out With Pride?

Will I be able to take SunRail to the Come Out With Pride Festival at Lake Eola?

SunRailRiders has been campaigning for weekend SunRail service for more than 2 years. We’re the guys who launched the petition drive to get weekend train service.

Just this past weekend we got word that a group of local stakeholders was launching an effort to raise private money to pay for weekend SunRail service. They said they hoped to begin service on October.

Come Out With Pride is on Oct. 8. Our sources tell us that the stakeholders plan to have #SaturdaySunRail service started in time for Come Out With Pride. The exact schedule for that Saturday and other Saturdays will be announced this Thursday.

Saturday SunRail details coming this Thursday

The official #SaturdaySunRailannouncement will be made this coming Thursday morning.

Since this past weekend when broke the latest details about plans to launch SunRail service on Saturday, people have been asking us:

  • ·         When will #SaturdaySunRail start?

  • ·         How can individuals help by donating $25 or more to join the crowd-sourcing effort to support the train's Saturday operations?

  • ·         How late will the train run on Saturdays?

That information will be spelled out on Thursday before the regular SunRail Commission meeting.

One thing we can tell you is our sources say they expect the train to start rolling in October, probably in time to support the massive Come Out With Pride Festival on Saturday, Oct. 8 in Orlando’s Lake Eola.

See you on The Rail.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday SunRail sponsor information

Platinum Engineer Sponsor - $25,000

  • Six opportunities available
  • Tax deductible non-profit contribution
  • Recognition at announcement event with Mayor Buddy Dyer
  • Recognition in all press releases
  • Recognition at associated earned media events
  • Recognition during City Hall meeting with proclamation
  • Logo placement on letterhead
  • Logo placement on Team SunRail website
  • Logo placement on event emails and announcements
  • Logo placement on SunRail on Saturdays outdoor billboards
  • On-train advertising with logo placement
  • Special feature on website for Saturday service promotion
  • Social media spotlights on Downtown Orlando Partnership outlets
  • Individualized social media promotion on SunRail outlets
  • 20 round-trip SunRail tickets

Gold Conductor Sponsor - $2,500

  • Logo placement on Team SunRail website and print marketing pieces
  • 10 round-trip SunRail tickets
  • Pair of event tickets to the following events:

Come Out With Pride Festival
Orlando Magic basketball game
Orlando Solar Bears hockey game
Dr. Phillips Center show (tbd)
Downtown Orlando Tours

Commuter Enthusiast - $25 plus donation

  • Individual recognition on social media outlets
  • Participation in grassroots, crowd-funding project
  • 2 round-trip SunRail tickets
  • 1-of-a-kind Orlando/SunRail themed T-shirt

Friday, September 23, 2016

Mayor Dyer's Saturday SunRail letter

Dear Friend,

The number one question we hear about SunRail is, “When is our train going to run on the weekends?” This illustrates both the enthusiasm people have for our young mass transit system, as well as their desire to see SunRail’s operating hours expand beyond those that primarily serve daily commuters. 

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer
As you may know, SunRail was designed to be a commuter rail system that would immediately give residents an alternative to I-4 and their vehicles during daily commuting hours – while also serving as the backbone of a future multi-modal transit system that connects with and enhances other forms of transit. That future includes the weekend service so many of our Central Florida residents desire.

At this moment, SunRail is not in a position to expand service to weekends. We knew this was going to be the case for the first several years of SunRail’s existence. That said, accepting the status quo and letting challenges stand in our way is not what we do in Orlando. When we see opportunities to make our community stronger and increase the quality of life for our residents, we work together to craft creative, partnership-driven solutions to turn good ideas into reality. That’s precisely what some of our major businesses and community organizations are doing… through a pilot project that will fund SATURDAY SERVICE ON SUNRAIL FROM OCTOBER THROUGH JANUARY.

Through a unique nonprofit partnership, the Downtown Orlando Partnership, The Downtown Orlando Foundation, The Downtown Development Board, some of Orlando’s major businesses and key community stakeholders are working together to fund and lead this exciting effort.

This project is important for a number of reasons. First, by offering leisure service, we create opportunities for residents to “try out” SunRail. This will, in turn, lead to more people adopting the train as their commuting method of choice and building longterm ridership on the system. Second, this community-driven project puts us in a position to showcase the demand for expanded service and, thus, helps permanent weekend service become a reality more rapidly. Third, this project represents an important shared commitment by our businesses and civic community to the success of mass transit options throughout our region.

Additionally, the October January window features major events occurring virtually every Saturday in Downtown Orlando, as well as near station stops up and down the SunRail line. SunRail service on Saturdays will drive attendance to these events and give attendees a new transportation option. The SunRail On Saturdays project is an important endeavor for our community and I strongly encourage you to get involved and become a funding partner. We cannot do this without you. Accompanying this letter is a document that outlines the various levels for nonprofit contributions.

If you would like to learn more about the project or have questions, please contact Bridget Keefe at the Downtown Orlando Partnership at (407) 595-0897.


Buddy Dyer

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Open letter to SunRail's new CEO

Dear Ms. Nicola Liquori,

Congratulations on your new role as SunRail CEO. We wish you every success!

Some riders were dismayed that you don’t have a passenger-rail background. We appreciate their concern, but we’re not overly worried because strong leadership can be as important as detailed technical knowledge and experience. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower led Allied forces to victory in World War II even though he never personally commanded soldiers on a battlefield.

The areas of focus that you detailed at the September Technical Advisory Committee meeting make sense. However, we were disappointed that customer satisfaction was not listed among your priorities.

SunRail ridership continues to sag because customer satisfaction is not -- and has not been -- a top priority.

Specifically, we call your attention to the train schedule. SunRail is almost completely useless unless you’re going to a traditional Monday through Friday 9 to 5 job.

What about the caregivers at Orlando Health (ORMC) and Florida Hospital? They don’t work a traditional schedule limited to weekdays.

How about the thousands of people who work at Orlando International Airport and in the hospitality and tourism industry? That’s a pool of thousands of prospective riders who want to use SunRail, but they can’t because of the train’s awful schedule.

We’ve been waiting two years for a real leader. We hope that’s you.

Please pay attention to what current riders -- and would-be riders -- are saying (especially the hospital caregivers). Don’t be misled by SunRail’s high-priced consultants. If they knew what they were talking about SunRail’s problems would have been solved long ago.

No service on weekends and holidays; no late-night service, 2 ½-hour service gaps during off-peak hours just don’t cut it. Those deficiencies are huge customer dis-satisfiers. You don’t need a Madison Avenue marketing guru to figure that out.

The schedule needs to be fixed now, not in five years. Waiting any longer will guarantee SunRail’s failure.

Fix SunRail’s schedule, extend service to DeLand, and your success will be guaranteed.


SunRail riders

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How much does SunRail's CEO get paid?


How much does SunRail’s new CEO Nicola Liquori get paid?

We checked with the Florida Department of Transportation – the agency that runs SunRail.

An FDOT spokesman told us that Ms. Liquori, an FDOT employee who formerly served as the Chief Financial Officer for The Florida Turnpike, gets $137,586.28 a year.

That’s really not bad considering that at the time he left the top job at LYNX, John Lewis was paid   $192,00 annually.

As reminder, Ms. Liquori, who hold a masters in management from Troy University, “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,” according to an FDOT spokesman.

SunRail is currently building 4 more stations to extend service south into Osceola County. Ms. Liquori also had pledged to find federal dollars to expand service north to DeLand in Volusia County.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

SunRail service on "some" Saturdays doesn't thrill everyone

The response to the news that the local business community is working on a plan to provide SunRail service on “some” Saturdays may not have been what was expected.

Empty SunRail station on the weekend
Immediately after we posted a video of a SunRail consultant disclosing the tentative plan some riders demanded to know why the plan would only cover “some” Saturdays.

While we’re grateful for any progress on getting SunRail weekend service, we also understand the frustration.

Everybody calling for weekend SunRail service isn’t trying to get to the Winter Park Farmers’ Market. Many riders need SunRail on Saturday AND Sunday to get to work.

Let’s not forget SunRail connects Central Florida to our two largest hospitals – Florida Hospital and Orlando Health.

How many people have been in a hospital that is open “some” Saturdays?

Caregivers need to be able to take the train to the hospital 7-days a week, on holidays and late at night. Those hospitals are 2 of Central Florida’s largest employers – a ready source of riders for a train that runs all the time.

SunRail also connects Central Florida to Orlando International Airport – another huge employer. Get off at Sand Lake Road and the bus ride (free with a transfer) to the airport takes less than 10 minutes.

Some airport employees are currently using SunRail, despite its painfully limited schedule. A lot more airport employees would be jumping aboard if the train had a more sensible schedule. Lots more airline passengers would be using the train too, if they could count on it.

SunRail leisure riders – going to the farmers’ markets, museums and events at Amway Center – are icing on the ridership cake.

We’re delighted that the Central Florida’s business community has taken an active role in trying to get weekend SunRail service rolling. But please don’t let the people who need the train to get to work on the weekend become an afterthought. They are our community’s backbone.

Friday, September 16, 2016

SunRail doesn't care about making things convenient for riders

Making things convenient for riders is NOT a priority at SunRail.

Misplaced cash machine at Sand Lake
SunRail has four ticket-vending machines for every station, but only one of the machines accepts cash. There are two machines serving the southbound platform and two on the northbound platform. 

We were told they placed the cash machine where it would be most convenient to riders. But that’s not true. We've previously reported on a similar problem at the Church Street station.

At the Sand Lake Road SunRail station the cash machine was put on the northbound platform, which is closest to the parking lot. That’s convenient for the courier who removes cash from the machine. Not so much for riders.

The cash machine placement at Sand Lake doesn’t make sense because 90 percent of the SunRail trains use the southbound platform for arrivals and departures. That’s because Sand Lake is the end of the line. The only time SunRail uses the northbound platform is when they switch tracks to clear the way for an Amtrak train to pass through.

So here’s what happens. A lady is running late and the SunRail train is already in the station at the southbound platform. She quickly crosses to the southbound side, rushes to the vending machines. Her credit card doesn’t work -- or like some people she doesn’t have a credit or debit card. She whips out some good ole American greenbacks but the train conductor and station Ambassador tell her the cash machine is on the other platform.
Wave goodbye to the train. We’ve seen this happen.

Fixing this requires only a hand truck, two people with strong backs and a technician to swap the vending machines. Or better yet, how about two cash machines – one for each platform?

SunRail ignores this because they don’t care about making things convenient for riders. If they did, they wouldn’t have ridiculous schedules with 2 ½-hour gaps between some trains.

See you on The Rail, or trying to find a cash machine.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

SunRail committee learns an inconvenient lesson

There was a wonderful teachable moment at Thursday’s meeting of SunRail’s Technical Advisory Committee.

TAC members
The committee members – officials representing cities along the SunRail corridor – had a big problem planning their next meeting. Thursday’s meeting was held in the LYNX offices in the downtown Orlando bus terminal that also serves as a SunRail station. Many committee members ride SunRail to the meeting.

One committee member suggested changing the time for the next meeting. But one of his colleagues said if they changed the time they would end up waiting 1 ½ hours for the next train. The discussion went back and forth as they tried to agree on a meeting time that would work with SunRail’s inconvenient schedule.

The discussion amused us. Here was a key SunRail committee wrestling with the same problem many average riders endure -- huge gaps of up to 2 ½ hours between some trains. This is why SunRail should be running hourly during off-peak periods.

Uber might be cheaper than SunRail

SunRail’s operating costs are so high it might be cheaper to order Uber for every SunRail rider.

While that seems absurd, we admit that we were quite shocked by the academic analysis showing the SunRail commuter train spends $35.11 per rider – the second highest for any commuter-rail system in the U.S.

The cool thing about Uber is, you can get them when you need them, instead of waiting up to 2 ½ hours for a SunRail train. Unlike SunRail, Uber runs weekends, on holidays, late at night and you don’t have to worry about tapping on and tapping off.

For more on SunRail’s expensive operations, please click

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

SunRail is a disaster

We’ve declared SunRail a disaster.

The only way to save SunRail is to admit how badly things are going. They say the first step to sobriety begins with an admission you’re an alcoholic.

We base our disaster declaration on academic analysis presented on

Yonah Freemark, a doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, publishes that website.

Freemark noted that SunRail has the second worst operating effectiveness costs among commuter rail systems in the U.S., according to 2015 figures.

Data shows SunRail’s operating expense per trip is $35.11 compared to $8.47 for the Salt Lake FrontRunner – similar to SunRail in many ways. Click here for more details.

Responding to an email from us, Freemark wrote: “The ‘operating effectiveness’ figure ($35.11 for SunRail) means that it costs SunRail $35.11 to transport each rider.

“Because SunRail collects $2.21 per passenger in fares per trip this means that other sources (public subsidies) must provide $32.90 per trip to support the operations of the train,” Freemark continued, “You'll note that SunRail is also the worst-performing commuter rail agency in terms of expense per passenger mile ($2.39), which requires the largest subsidy per passenger-mile ($2.24). These figures would be improved substantially with additional ridership.”

Feeble attempts by SunRail and its high-priced consultants haven’t been able to improve SunRail because it’s operating with a half-assed schedule.

Lots of people want to use SunRail. Just check our Facebook page to see the intense demand for SunRail service. But SunRail doesn’t run when many people need it.

  • No weekend service.
  • No holiday service.
  • No late-night service.
  • No DeLand service.
  • Service gaps of up to 2 ½ hours during the day.

It’s no surprise SunRail’s ridership is in a death spiral.

Please end the disaster. SunRail’s management and operations need a major shakeup to provide the service riders demand.

We’re tired of excuses and SunRail’s ‘can’t do’ attitude.

Save SunRail because it’s critical to provide transportation options Central Florida needs to thrive.

Friday, September 9, 2016

SunRail screwed Volusia out of DeLand train station

SunRail is running off the tracks.

Volusia County Council (county commission) members are ready to pull the plug on SunRail unless the promised DeLand SunRail train station gets built.

Who can blame them?

Mythical DeLand SunRail station
Nine years ago Volusia signed on to SunRail because they were promised a train station in DeLand – Volusia’s county seat.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) currently operates SunRail. Orange, Seminole, Volusia, Osceola counties and the city of Orlando are supposed to take over the financial responsibility and operations of SunRail in 5 years when FDOT leaves the project.

Three new stations are currently being built in Osceola County – with the help of a special federal grant. A new spur is being planned to connect SunRail tracks to Orlando International Airport. But nothing is going on with the DeLand station.

Last year SunRail’s FDOT masters applied for a special federal grant to extend the SunRail tracks to DeLand. The grant was denied. This spring FDOT was preparing another application for the federal grant. In a surprise move, at the last moment, FDOT chose not submit the grant application to extend tracks to DeLand.

Volusia County deserves more than sweet words from FDOT. The county was promised a SunRail DeLand station. FDOT needs to deliver.

Currently SunRail tracks only go as far as the Volusia County city of DeBary – one of the busiest stations in SunRail.

We’re passionate supporters of SunRail. We’re also deeply disappointed in the defective SunRail product FDOT delivered. The train service is limited to weekdays. There are service gaps of up to 2 ½ hours. No late-night service. There’s no trains to DeLand, even though that service was promised.

No surprise SunRail is used by fewer than 2,000 daily because its schedule is so inconvenient. SunRail’s potential is tremendous. There are at least 10,000 people on the SunRail track corridor who could be use the train daily.

SunRail was pitched as a vital element in the I-4 transportation network. Unless our leaders wake up, SunRail will run off the tracks in 2021 when FDOT departs. We’re furious because FDOT’s poor leadership, poor planning, poor attitude and indifference to customer satisfaction are responsible for SunRail’s failures.

Please get this railroad back on the tracks.