Sunday, September 30, 2018

SunRail's new safety system is on the way

The head of the Federal Railroad Administration identified SunRail as one of nine passenger railroads that are running behind schedule on the installation of the mandatory high-tech system designed to reduce or prevent, derailments and collisions between trains.

Federal Railroad Administrator Ronald Batory offered that negative assessment to a Congressional subcommittee in mid-September while delivering a progress report on the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) systems on railroads throughout the nation.

SunRail PTC test train

In addition to SunRail, Batory also named the New Mexico Rail Runner Express; Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority; New Jersey Transit; Altamont Corridor Express; Maryland Area Regional Commuter; Trinity Railway Express; Caltrain and Tri Rail (in south Florida).

SunRail CEO Nicola Liquori responded to Batory’s concerns in a letter that shows SunRail is actually on track to meet deadlines for the installation and implementation of PTC.

Her letter is excellent news for passengers who ride SunRail, and the crews that operate trains.

Several major crashes that resulted in dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries could be prevented by PTC.

PTC technology prevents trains from going too fast and prevents collisions between trains that are on the same tracks. However, PTC cannot prevent crashes caused by pedestrians or cars that trespass on the tracks.

The PTC system is expensive and complicated. It requires the installation of high-tech hardware and software in trains, along the tracks and in the operations center for the railroad. The system must interface with all the trains that use the tracks. SunRail owns the track corridor from Poinciana in Osceola County to DeLand in Volusia County. Those tracks are also used by Amtrak and freight trains.

In her letter to Washington, Ms. Liquori wrote: “Quarterly progress reporting lags with respect to the Central Florida Rail Corridor’s (the legal name for SunRail) actual progress. CFRC has progressed ahead of schedule with respect to planned hardware installation. As of Sept. 17, 2018, CFRC has achieved PTC installation across the following segments:”
·        Locomotives
·        Radio towers
·        Operations headquarters
·        Wayside interface units. These units are installed along the actual track corridor. At the time of the letter, technicians had installed 80 of 86 trackside units.

In addition, SunRail is training employees on how the system works.
It’s also noteworthy that in early September, SunRail assembled a special train (shown in the accompanying photo) that included 2 locomotives, 4 coach cars and one cab car (where the engineer sits to operate southbound trains) to test the PTC system over a weekend between the Sanford and Longwood stations.

Liquori wrote that she anticipates that the PTC system will be fully implemented by the fourth quarter of 2019. Full implementation is dependent on certification by federal officials.

“The mission of the Florida Department of Transportation is to provide a safe and efficient transportation system throughout the state, including along our rail corridor,” Liquori wrote in the letter.

“We understand that the successful implementation of Positive Train Control, as required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, is integral to fulfilling our mission. The safety of our passengers, employees and the general public is our top priority. As such, the implementation of PTC on our corridor and our fleet is of paramount importance,” she wrote.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What to do when the ticket vending machines aren't working?

So the other day we went to catch SunRail. When we got to the station none of the ticket-vending machines was working.

OK, today we’re not knocking the vending machines. They are machines and sometimes technology doesn’t work.

The train was coming in a few minutes and we didn’t know what to do. But along came the friendly platform Ambassador. We explained the situation and she said not to worry.

She gave us a handy-dandy SunRail pre-addressed envelope to show the conductor that we tried to pay, and for us to mail in with a check to pay our fare.

Good thinking, SunRail!

In case you were wondering – 36 people have used the envelopes to mail in checks. Shows you what kind of great folks ride SunRail!

See you on The Rail!

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Stop the SunRail/Lynx ticket scammers

We hate it when slick people abuse the system, especially when their cheating shortchanges SunRail and Lynx.

The scam we heard about works like this: A person arrives at a SunRail station by car. Then they walk over to a waiting Lynx bus and ask the driver for a transfer.

As you probably know, Lynx riders get a free transfer to ride SunRail.
Then this scammer uses the transfer to swipe on the ticket-vending machine for a free SunRail ticket.

To those ticket scammers, we have three words: Knock it off!

Those scammers are cheating SunRail, Lynx and all the other riders who paid their hard-earned money to ride SunRail and Lynx.

Stolen pennies add up to dollars and dollars add up to thousands of dollars. Public transportation in Central Florida is woefully underfunded. They can’t afford the hit.

To the well-meaning bus drivers, we respectfully ask you not to give transfers to people who didn’t ride your bus.

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

SunRail is doomed if DeSantis gets elected governor

SunRail is dead if Congressman Ron DeSantis gets elected governor of Florida.

DeSantis hates SunRail! Click here to see his position. (Paragraph 12)

We hate to jump into partisan politics because we’re sure it will upset some of our fans. But if you support SunRail, you deserve the cold, hard truth.

There’s no reason for SunRail to become a victim of partisan politics. SunRail’s existence is a shining example of bipartisan cooperation that worked.

Consider that SunRail’s father is former Congressman John Mica, a conservative Republican.

For almost 20 years, Mr. Mica rallied a coalition of Democrat and Republican local, state and federal elected officials across Central Florida to support SunRail.

Departing Gov. Rick Scott was never a friend of Florida passenger rail. SunRail was reluctantly approved on his watch. But if you think Scott was bad; DeSantis is worse.

DeSantis, who represents a portion of Volusia County in Congress, has always been a Debbie Downer when it comes to SunRail.

One reason why SunRail service still has not been extended to DeLand is that DeSantis refused to support the initiative.

It’s easy for DeSantis and other naysayers to dismiss SunRail as a “boondoggle”.

Isn’t “boondoggle” the same label that was stuck on the airplane, the telephone, the radio, television, the space program, and other new ideas?

We’ll be the first to admit that SunRail in its current state – no weekend or late-night service, no direct rail connection to the airport – leaves a lot to be desired.

But you must start somewhere.

SunRail 2018 is a start. We need to build on what we have, not tear it down, or let it die.

Maybe Mr. DeSantis has been so busy campaigning across the state that he has not had the opportunity to drive around and see how bad traffic congestion has become in Central Florida.

This is not just a problem limited to downtown Orlando. Try 17-92 in DeBary and DeLand, Lake Mary Boulevard, State Road 436 and so on and see how you like it. Traffic is horrible on those main thoroughfares and the feeder streets.

Anyone naïve enough to think the I-4 Ultimate project can fix our traffic crisis will be staying up late at night waiting for the Easter Bunny and Santa.

No one claims SunRail will eliminate traffic congestion, but it can prevent things from getting worse by offering commuters the option to leave their cars home.

Already millions of dollars of new developments – homes and businesses have been built on the SunRail corridor. That’s called Transit Oriented Development – and it helps to hold down traffic congestion.

Small businesses from Sanford to Kissimmee have seen their sales increase thanks to new customers who have been arriving by SunRail. Travelers have used SunRail to reach the airport through a bus connection.

We’re certain SunRail usage will skyrocket if we can ever get a direct SunRail train connection to Orlando International.

Why doesn’t DeSantis seem to be aware of the benefits of SunRail? Imagine all the prosperity that could be flowing into DeLand – the county seat -- if DeSantis joined other Central Florida leaders to support that project.

Does DeSantis know Central Florida got kicked out of the competition for thousands of good-paying jobs and a second Amazon headquarters because our public transit system – Lynx and SunRail – sucks?

The Florida Department of Transportation is footing the operating costs for SunRail through 2021. Then local jurisdictions – Orlando, Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties -- are supposed to pick up the operating expenses. Considering that SunRail serves a four-county region on the I-4 corridor, the state’s support of SunRail will still be needed -- both with legislation and money.

Even as you are reading this article, a recent story in the Orlando Sentinel reported that state officials seem to be dragging their feet to address changes needed in legal documents that are key to the local takeover of SunRail.

For a moment, imagine a Gov. DeSantis… What if he decided to cut SunRail out of the state budget 2 years early. Can’t happen? Don’t bet on it.

We need a new governor who has the vision to understand and support improved public transit – SunRail and Lynx – in Central Florida.

Elections have consequences, and SunRail will be a goner if DeSantis becomes governor.

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Saturday, September 1, 2018

Why SunRail doesn't run on weekends and holidays

Ever since SunRail began serving the 4 train stations in the Southern Expansion new riders have been bombarding us with three familiar questions:

·        How come SunRail doesn’t run on the weekends?
·        How come SunRail doesn’t run on holidays – such as this Monday on Labor Day?
·        How come SunRail doesn’t run late at night?

Welcome to the club newbies.

We’ve been asking those same questions for the last 4 years -- since SunRail started rolling.

We have been advocating for a full-service rail system that operates 365 days a year to support the transportation needs of everyone from the suits who work in downtown Orlando, to the service-industry employees who work non-traditional schedules and the caregivers at the two major hospitals on the SunRail corridor.

You can curse the SunRail managers for the limited service, but honestly, they aren’t at fault. They have been given enough money to run the trains Monday to Friday – that’s it.

If there’s no money in the budget, what do you expect them to do?
The SunRail managers have heard the complaints about the schedule. They get it. They don’t have the power to fix it.

The power rests with elected officials – the ones who came up with the plan for commuter rail.

We have no idea why they had such a colossal failure of imagination that it didn’t occur to them that this community would want more than a train that ran on bankers’ hours.

Here are some basic things you need to understand about public transit, this includes the Lynx bus too.

There is no public transit system in the world that can support its operations from the fare box. Typically, the fares bring in enough to pay about 30 percent of the operating costs.

Public transit depends on government subsidies to survive. Public transit is a service – just like police and fire protection. Unlike police and fire, at least public transit brings in some revenue.

While we’re at it, you should also know that public transit is not the only transportation system that receives government subsidies. The interstate highways, the airlines and the street outside your house are all supported by government subsidies.

On a few occasions, SunRail has operated on weekends for the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, events at Camping World Stadium and elsewhere. 

During all those occasions, the service was paid for by public and private partnerships.

In the past, it cost about $22,000 to operate the train on a weekend day. It probably will cost more now that the system has added four stations.

Here is something else to keep in mind. The operating costs for SunRail are currently being paid for by the Florida Department of Transportation. The FDOT money ends in 2021.

Then the funding becomes the responsibility of the local partners – Orlando, Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties. The price tag is someplace north of $30 million.

To keep SunRail on the tracks and expand the service to 365 days and late at night will take considerable political will and courage.

Complaining about SunRail on Facebook achieves little.

We – all of us – need to demand that our local, state and federal elected officials give SunRail the money necessary to provide the service we need.

This is the election season, get busy.

See you on The Rail.

PS: SunRail will not be running this Monday, Sept. 3, on Labor Day.

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