Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SunRail shows us what urban rail is like

On Saturday, March 18th, SunRail made history.

For that one day SunRail operated like a big-city urban train service, just like they have in South Florida, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Chicago and other vibrant metropolitan areas across the nation.

Crowded SunRail coach
Many of us have grown frustrated with SunRail’s inconvenient Monday to Friday bankers’-hours schedule that has nearly 3-hour gaps between some trains in the middle of the day.

On this past Saturday – thanks to special funding by a public-private partnership – SunRail ran on an hourly basis from 10 a.m. through 11 p.m. Service wrapped up in DeBary at 1:15 on Sunday morning.

There was so much happening in cities along the rail corridor on Saturday, it was a blessing that SunRail service was provided.

And trains were packed.

The FDOT officials who manage SunRail reported there were 12,842 boardings. Most SunRail passengers ride roundtrip so you should divide the number of boardings by 2 to see the actual number of riders.

The number of people who rode on Saturday is nearly 4 times the number who ride on a regular weekday.

And check this out!

During the week SunRail runs 36 trains. On Saturday, SunRail ran 28 trains. In other words, they ran 8 fewer trains and carried 4 times the number of riders.


It just goes to show: Run the train on a convenient schedule and people will ride.

This is the kind of train service Central Floridians have been begging for since SunRail launched in 2014.

Admittedly for the past few months we’ve been pessimistic about SunRail’s chance of long-term survival. Saturday gave us hope.

Many folks we encountered on the train were riding for the first time. They were impressed and glad they didn’t have to worry about driving on I-4 or finding parking at their destination in Winter Park, or downtown Orlando.

Regrettably, Saturday was a one-time deal that was privately funded. SunRail doesn’t have money in its budget for weekends or late-night service. In other words, don’t look for a SunRail train this coming weekend.

The elected officials who serve on the SunRail Commission say after SunRail completes its rail connection to Orlando International Airport they’ll have to offer 7-day service.

That airport connection is not happening anytime soon.

The airport link hasn’t been designed, approved or funded.

The most non-partisan way we can say this is: At this point, no one can predict what federal dollars might be available from the Trump administration for the airport link. (Thank goodness there already is Lynx bus service between the airport and the Sand Lake Road SunRail station.)

And oh, yeah, state dollars to operate SunRail will run out in 2021.

So, friends, what do you want our local leaders to do to keep the good times rolling on SunRail?

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