SANFORD – There have been some discussions at SunRail about providing weekend trips, trains that could transport area residents to major concerts and other special event, Mike Wacht said – ambitious plans, that, unfortunately, require money that the rail line doesn’t yet have.
“Those are conversations we’re having, but the big hurdle is getting the funding to run those hours,” said Wacht.
Besides, added Wacht – the public involvement specialist at the SunRail City Center in downtown Orlando – right now SunRail fully understands its mission and is focusing on that.
“We’re a commuter rail system, so our goal is to get people to work,” he said. “Our job is to get you from home to work and home again.”
In fact, one of the SunRail construction team’s focus right now, he said, is making the stations being built as part of the first phase of this 61-mile long route as appealing and convenient as possible.
“We call it Kiss and Ride,” he said. “You drive up, kiss your spouse goodbye, and ride the train.”
On Wednesday, Wacht gave a presentation on the light rail line coming to Central Florida, during a breakfast meeting sponsored by the Sanford Chamber of Commerce, held at the Central Florida Zoo. SunRail is a commuter rail line that will start in Debary in Volusia County, then continue to downtown Orlando, and on to Poinciana.
“We are building it in two phases,” Wacht said, noting that it will include stops and stations in Debary, Sanford, Lake Mary, Longwood, Altamonte Springs, Maitland, Winter Park and Orlando.
“It will be operational and carrying passengers by May 2014,” he said.
The second phase, which will run from Orlando into Osceola County and end at Poinciana Boulevard, will be up and running by 2016, he added.
The trains will run throughout the entire day, taking into account that not everyone works a 9-5 schedule, he said.
“Our last train will run by 10:30 in the evening,” he said.
Wacht works at the SunRail City Center at 201 N. Magnolia Ave. in downtown Orlando, which was opened by the city in April to give local residents with a place where they could learn more about the trains and what SunRail would be offering commuters. The train’s supporters are hoping to build up support and anticipation for the light rail system, so as many residents as possible will ride it.
Although the state and federal government are covering a large bulk of the $615 million construction cost, the counties hosting the train – Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola – will have to start covering the long-term maintenance costs of the train after the first seven years.
“Some people ask, ‘It doesn’t go to our area, so what does it do for me?’ “ Wacht said. “Think of it as we’re building a spine. We have to start somewhere. We’re competing with I-4. We have to get people off I-4.”
As Wacht noted, the 61-mile route could eventually expand to neighboring counties in the future, or become the basis for a more expansive public transportation system that links the rail stations to bus or shuttle service in the future.
In the meantime, SunRail will provide double decker trains and wi-fi Internet connections, making it an appealing option for commuters who want to get some work done on the way to the office.
“We will have restroom facilities on our cars,” he said. “And transit is environmentally friendly. We get cars off I-4.”
To ride SunRail, passengers will buy cards they can put money onto, and use their cards to pay the daily fare.
“Our fare system will be tap on, tap off technology,” he said. “When you get on the train, you tap on your card.”
In addition, “There will be monthly passes, and we’re looking at discounts for those,” Wacht added.
To get SunRail built, the state spend $432 million purchasing the tracks, which had been owned by CSX, that will carrying the trains. Now SunRail is busy clearing land and vegetation around them.
“There’s more than 100 rail crossings we’ll have to deal with,” Wacht said.
The entire SunRail project is expected to create 13,500 construction jobs, and more than 25,000 permanent jobs in the future, he said.
“If you’re interested in getting involved with SunRail as a business owner, go to our Web site and click on the Procurement Phase,” he said.
To learn more, call 1-855-RAIL-411, or email Wacht at Mike@SunRail.com.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.