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What a difference 5 years make!
We clearly remember the pre-dawn darkness of the morning of May 1, 2014 when we boarded the first regularly scheduled northbound train departing from the Sand Lake Road SunRail station.
You would have thought it was a moon launch from Cape Canaveral. The station and the train were packed with reporters, railfans and some genuine commuters seeking a less stressful way of getting to work.
The first few days of SunRail service were amazing – almost overwhelming. So many people tried SunRail during the first weeks that extra trains were added to accommodate the overflow crowds.
The excitement was understandable because local train service for the Orlando metro area – an idea that had been dreamed about and debated for decades – opened a new era for Central Florida. SunRail created a new transportation corridor along the I-4 corridor, one of the nation’s fastest growing areas.
From its first day, SunRail connected three counties and most of this region’s major employers, including downtown Orlando, Orlando Health and Advent Health (formerly Florida Hospital) downtown Orlando and the Sand Lake Road station, which has a quick bus connection to Orlando International Airport. It’s noteworthy that SunRail also attracts riders from neighboring Lake and Polk counties. They would rather ride the train that fight congestion on I-4 and other highways.
Last summer SunRail grew by 4 stations – to a total of 16 – thanks to the Southern Expansion into Osceola County (and connected a fourth county). That expansion nearly doubled SunRail’s daily ridership to the point that on many mornings and afternoons there is standing-room only at some train stations.
Looking out the train window during the past 5 years it’s easy to see how SunRail has super-charged growth in Central Florida. Take Maitland station, for example. Five years ago, there was nothing at that station. Today, there’s an attractive apartment complex next to the station. Apartment complexes have also been built at the Lake Mary, Longwood, and Lynx Central Station. More Transportation-Oriented Developments are under construction at Tupperware and Sand Lake Road. Plans are also in the works for DeBary and Kissimmee.
The billions in new construction have meant more real-estate tax money to improve the quality of life in the counties where SunRail operates.
Though SunRail was launched mainly to serve commuters, it has also developed a strong following of leisure riders heading to lunch in Winter, Sanford, and Kissimmee; the museums and theaters at Loch Haven Park, and sporting, cultural events and date nights in downtown Orlando and other destinations along the SunRail corridor.
While the launch of SunRail may not be quite as big a deal as the opening of the Magic Kingdom, it has changed Central Florida. SunRail at 5 years old shows a bright and promising future. As Central Florida leaders work to embrace the opportunities ahead, SunRail has the potential to connect the region even more.
For more information, click here.
This article first appeared on sunrailriders.blogspot.com
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