Local leaders hoping for a big turnout on SunRail's first day in service got what they wanted Thursday morning. But the turnout has gotten so big, some trains have filled to capacity, preventing some passengers from boarding.
The crowds caused the trains to run about 30 minutes behind schedule for most of the day Thursday.
Five SunRail trains began service Thursday morning, running from DeBary to south Orlando, with 12 stations along the 32-mile track.
Best of all for commuters who want to try out the new line, SunRail will be FREE for all passengers through May 16.
The Florida Department of Transportation hopes the next two weeks of free service will draw people to check out SunRail and eventually choose it over heavy traffic on I-4.
"I think it's a good idea," one commuter at the LYNX Central Station in downtown Orlando said Thursday morning as he waited to board his first SunRail train. "It's faster, more convenient, cleaner, nice scenery."
"It is Wi-Fi friendly, it's light and friendly," said Volusia County Councilwoman Patricia Northey. "The chairs are comfortable, the tables to work on. Why would anyone want to get into their car?"
FDOT said it hopes 4,300 people board SunRail daily. The trains will continue making stops until 10:11 p.m., when the final northbound train stops in DeBary.
SunRail first got the green light to begin construction in 2007. Seven years later, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who fought hard to bring commuter rail to the City Beautiful, is now counting on its success.
"We are on the verge of the most exciting year in the history of Orlando, and I'm proud to be here today," Dyer said Wednesday during a grand opening ceremony. "When I went to a meeting, the question was always, 'Do we really need SunRail?' There were naysayers about whether we should build it, and I haven't heard that question in years now."
Instead, Dyer has been hearing other questions for those eager to see SunRail succeed:
- When will SunRail start running overnight and on weekends?
- When will SunRail link up to Orlando International Airport?
Those questions still don't have definite answers, but Dyer — and many others — hope they will come soon.
The cost of the SunRail is already over $1 billion. Half of that came from a federal grant, 25 percent from the state of Florida, the remaining 25 percent from counties and cities the line serves.