SunRail airport route set with transfer station only, for $250 million

Sunrail Airport leg

The next big SunRail project, connecting the north-south line to Orlando International Airport, has settled on a route that would provide for transfer passengers only – with no parking lot – with a $250 million estimated pricetag.

The Florida Department of Transportation still is a long ways from settling on how to extend service from the commuter train’s DeBary to Poinciana route to the airport but an engineering study moving through the department and surfacing last week at a SunRail meeting shows the preferred route.

That route would go mostly along a 3.5 mile existing railroad track corridor from a railroad transfer station to be constructed north of the Meadow Woods subdivision to the airport property, and then along a two-mile route to be negotiated with the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority across airport property to the new OIA train station now under construction.

Last week the SunRail governing board, the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission, received a brief update on the plan, which has been in the works since at least 2005, and first settled on the route – one of five alternative routes being considered – in internal documents last fall, and presented to the department’s inter model group in late February.

SunRail Executive Director Nicola Liquori told the board last week did not rule out the other four routes, which would connect to full-service stations at either Sand Lake Road or in Meadow Woods, but said the department decided to break out the transer-station only route for more detailed study. The most recent cost estimate of $250 million was being revisited but she did not have any information on when a firmer estimate might be available.

The internal documents project a 2020 opening. But that is unlikely considering MetroPlan Orlando, the metropolitan transportation planning organization projects seeking federal funding in 2020, and otherwise there are no sure plans for where the money might come from.

The plan calls for creating a transfer station just north of the Meadow Woods station now under construction. The transfer station, would be at the point where the Stanton Spur railroad track, owned by the Orlando Utilities Commission, now enters the north-south railroad corridor. Except for potential bus transfers, the transfer station would not have any parking lots or any facilities for drive-up or kiss-and-ride drop-offs.

SunRail currently operates a 32-mile track running north and south from DeBary to Sand Lake Road in Orlando. The next phase, an expansion southward to Poinciana, is now under construction, and would include new stations at Meadow Woods, the Tupperware headquarters, the Kissimmee Amtrak station, and Poinciana.

From the transfer station to the OIA Intermodel Terminal Facility – the airport train station – would be a 5.5 mile route that would take the train eight to ten minutes, according to the draft preliminary engineering report Liquori discussed with the board last week.

Most of the cost would cover construction, adding two new tracks in the corridor of sufficient quality to handle passenger trains capable of reaching speeds of 45 mph, plus the transfer station. Liquori said about $50 million would be needed for right-of-way purchases.

The FDOT preliminary engineering study projects 2,550 daily riders at the start, and a peak of 3,050 by by 2030. The current line carries an average daily load of fewer than 4,000 riders, though that is expected to increase with the southern expansion.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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