SunRail to test first regular Saturday service

By Christina Jensen and John W. Davis, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Saturday, November 05, 2016, 12:34 PM EDT

SunRail's first regular Saturday service will be tested starting this Saturday for a period of four months. The goal is to help riders get to several major events along the train route.

“They just need a more flexible schedule," said David Porter, blogger at SunRailRiders.com. "A schedule that works the way people need for the train to run."

Port is a big advocate for the expanded SunRail service.

Riders consistently report that SunRail is a comfortable mode of transportation. However, other than a few select events, SunRail has only been for Monday through Friday commuters. 

“It’s part of what’s holding SunRail back. Again, it’s not just, weekends are a big piece of it, but also just more frequency during the week," Porter responded.

Porter is passionate about SunRail’s potential in Central Florida.  

“We need to make it easier for more people to be able to use it," Porter said.

Through the Downtown Orlando Partnership, private sponsors are supporting select Saturday service this fall and winter, with trains currently scheduled to run once a hour from about 2 p.m. until midnight.

That schedule could change depending on the nature of weekend events.

Porter wants what he calls a last call train.

"A train that actually ran, let’s say 3 o’clock in the morning, so when the bars close in downtown Orlando on Friday night and Saturday night people can then get on the train and ride back to Lake Mary and Longwood," Porter explained. "And then they can catch an UBER to get home from there. That can be done. I guarantee you if they did that the train would be packed."

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, on any given weekday less than 2,000 people ride SunRail.

Porter believes Monday through Sunday service is the key to SunRail’s long-term success and even its existence.

"As big a fan I am of SunRail, I don’t see it surviving beyond 2021, if this is all the service we can provide,” Port said.

On Saturday, there will be major events at Lake Eola, Camping World Stadium and Amway Center.

In September, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was able to collect enough money to support the Saturday tests. More than 30 businesses and organizations have pitched in to help raise about $250,000 for the service.

The tests are important for the future of SunRail, because it needs more funding. SunRail is expanding 17 miles south into Poinciana in Osceola County, which means more expenses for the commuter train.