110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Sep 21, 2012 - 6:02:09pm
It's been many years since I've been on any kind of train trip. The same was true for most of nearly 200 people — including Realtors, Chamber of Commerce members and elected officials from the four counties and City of Orlando that SunRail will serve — who boarded the Amtrak Silver Star in DeLand Sept. 14 for a sneak peek at the SunRail route.
Many of the passengers had never been on a train.
Riders from down the line joined locals at the DeLand station, overwhelming the Amtrak ticket agents, who responded with good humor. (Note to SunRail: More restrooms will be needed when commuter rail begins.)
As we waited for the Amtrak train from Jacksonville, equipped with several extra cars to accommodate the crowd, we met John B, the Stetson mascot, and heard from several elected officials.
"We have so much potential here, and this is where Amtrak will start," County Chair Frank Bruno, a state Senate candidate who is also chairman of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission, said.
Eventually, the commuter train will run all the way to Tampa, he noted, to applause.
The Silver Star pulled in. The Amtrak cars were used as stand-ins for the SunRail cars, which will be similar, if a bit smaller.
Most likely, regular riders will become blasé about taking the train. For me and I suspect for others, there was something romantic about watching the train roll to a stop and the uniformed Amtrak employees open the door for passenger boarding. It called up the romantic movies of the 1930s and 1940s.
As Amtrak official Dennis Lyons said, "Everybody loves trains."
The Silver Star got moving, and made it up to around 70 mph briefly, slowing for safety as it passed SunRail station construction sites and traveled over the river.
Florida Department of Transportation District 5 Secretary Noranne Downs and SunRail Project Coordinator Tawny Olore briefed the riders. The average SunRail speed will be 45 mph, Downs said.
"We're going through a 31-mile construction site," Olore said, as stations in varying stages of construction appeared in the windows.
Reading the related story about partnerships and transit-oriented development here.
This was the first time either of the women had seen the route from the rails, though both know it intimately from maps and vehicle windows.
• Trains will run on the half-hour during peak commuting hours, 5:30-8:30 a.m. Then, trains will run every two hours until 3:30 p.m., when they'll run on the half-hour again until 6:30 p.m. The last commuter train will pull in at 11:30 p.m.
• Only a few freight trains will run on the rails during commuter hours. The others have been shifted to other lines, or will run between midnight and 5 a.m.
• A second track is being laid beside the existing track between DeBary and Maitland, except for the St. Johns River bridge crossing. Additional track will be put down from the south end of downtown Orlando to Sand Lake Road, and from southern Orange County to Poinciana. The corridor is already double-tracked between Winter Park and Sand Lake Road. The second track will allow trains to run in both directions at the same time.
• SunRail cars will feature free WiFi, flip-up seats, power outlets at all seats and restrooms.
• Want to ride your bike to the station? You'll be able to leave it there securely, or take it with you on the train.
• Educational programs in schools will teach children to be safe near the rails.
My inner child said a little "Nyah, nyah," as we passed by trucks stopped at railroad crossings.
I saw Southwest Volusia from a new perspective. Instead of watching for other cars on Interstate 4 or U.S. Highway 17-92, I relaxed and enjoyed the view of woods, palmetto scrub, pine meadows and river.
As we traveled through Orlando, I saw a less welcome sight: homeless people camped out under overpasses, some sleeping on cardboard. I wondered whether the new SunRail stations would provide them jobs or services.
Then, we were in Kissimmee, which like DeLand, already has an Amtrak station. The group debarked and headed into the Kissimmee Civic Center, just steps away, where the various SunRail-station communities offered brochures and promotional items, and were happy to talk about their communities.
We were offered more information on SunRail and transit-oriented development over a buffet lunch.
Then, the Volusia contingent boarded a bus (ho-hum after the Amtrak trip) and headed back home.
May 2014 and the first phase of SunRail are coming.
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