Discussions on expanding SunRail operations at a meeting Monday in downtown Orlando included talk of eventually connecting the commuter rail service to Orlando International Airport, as well as the possibility of overnight and weekend service, something many Central Floridians say they want to see as soon as possible.
An online petition on Change.org, titled simply "Run SunRail on the weekends and later at night," has gotten more than 1,700 signatures urging Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, U.S. Rep. John Mica and SunRail leaders to move ahead with expanding service.
But those changes are not something that can happen overnight.
Phase 3: To the airport
According to our partners at the Orlando Business Journal, the Florida Department of Transportation has submitted a development proposal to the Federal Transit Administration for Phase 3 of SunRail, which would extend to Orlando International Airport.
The 5.5-mile extension would run from just north of the Meadow Woods Station planned for Phase 2, south of the current Sand Lake Road Station, to the airport — specifically MCO's planned $213 million intermodal transportation hub.
According to the Business Journal, 3.5 miles of the extension would run on existing tracks owned by the city of Orlando. The additional 2 miles would be new tracks on airport property.
Phase 2 of SunRail will extend the current line south to Poinciana and north to DeLand. The north extension is still in preliminary engineering.
What's keeping weekend and overnight service
The Florida Department of Transportation said Monday it will look at how much it would cost to run the trains overnight and on Saturdays and Sundays. That's the first step in any changes being made to the service.
In addition to talking about expanding SunRail operations, there was also a general update on the service during Monday's meeting at MetroPlan in downtown Orlando. The Central Florida community has responded positively to SunRail in its first two months of service. Ridership is up, having met and exceeded expectations.
Leaders said they are constantly looking at safety, especially after three crashes since service began on May 1.
The service has been most popular at the Winter Park, Church Street, DeBary and Sand Lake stations, which leads back to the push for additional hours later at night and on weekends.
Tawny Olore, FDOT's program manager for SunRail, said not only is money is an issue, but so are the actual trains.
"We do have operating windows with our partner, CSX," Olore explained. "The operating hours for them and their exclusive freight time is between midnight and 5, so that's another challenge that we would face."
There was also the issue of noise brought up by residents in Sanford. SunRail leaders said they are working with those residents.
As this discussion moves ahead along with talk about additional phases, we will continue to follow it. The next meeting on SunRail will be in mid- to late fall.