| ORLANDO, Fla., April 13
ORLANDO, Fla., April 13 Central Florida is
scheduled to roll out a commuter rail system on May 1 along a
major interstate corridor that runs through downtown Orlando,
becoming the first new system to open in the United States in
SunRail will extend a total of 61 miles at a cost of $1
billion by the time a second phase is completed in 2016.
The new commuter rail system opens during a time of rising
public transit ridership. The American Public Transportation
Association (APTA) in March reported a record 10.7 billion trips
taken nationally in 2013, fed in part by investments in transit
by states and cities to attract new businesses and workers.
SunRail will run in a generally north-south direction
through the eastern side of central Florida with downtown
Orlando near the midpoint. The train bypasses the city's major
Stops include several suburbs, two large Orlando hospitals
and medical complexes and the Amway Arena, the stadium of the
NBA's Orlando Magic.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said one goal for SunRail was to
change future growth patterns in central Florida away from
suburban sprawl toward more walkable urban environments
increasingly popular today.
Since SunRail was funded, nearly $1.7 billion in new
development, including 4,500 residential units, has been
completed or is under construction within a 10-minute walk of a
commuter station, according to the Florida Department of
"We're competing for the bright, talented, young people and
entrepreneurs with places like Austin and San Francisco to bring
that talent to Orlando," Dyer said. "They expect public
The wider vision is for SunRail to tie into an extensive
public transit network linking Orlando and Miami by an
inter-city higher-speed rail.
Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), which owns a prime
century-old rail line along Florida's east coast, announced
plans in 2012 for All Aboard Florida, a three-hour passenger
train service between Orlando and Miami, now projected by the
company to launch in 2015.
All Aboard Florida says 50 million people a year travel
between Orlando, the most visited U.S. city, and Miami,
Florida's largest urban area, creating a feasible market for
what would be the first privately funded, owned and operated
inter-city passenger rail service in the country in a half a
If the project succeeds, "then you've expanded the effective
commuter shed that someone could live in Miami and work in
Orlando or vice versa," said David Levinson, urban systems
researcher and civil engineering professor at the University of
"It happens in Europe all the time and it happens in the
Northeast Corridor all the time."
SunRail is the tenth new commuter rail system completed in
the United States since 2000, and follows the 2011 opening of
the 21-mile "A Train" in Denton, Texas, according to the APTA.
Other new systems since the turn of the century were built
in Austin, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Albuquerque,
Seattle, Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon.
Despite President Barack Obama's attempt to jump-start
high-speed rail construction across the country with $8 billion
in his 2009 economic stimulus package, no European or
Japanese-style train has been constructed, Levinson said.
Projects in Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio were cancelled by
Republican governors who criticized the federal government for
wasteful spending. Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott also
cited the risk of cost overruns being absorbed by the state.
California, the beneficiary of federal money diverted from
those states, is facing legal and funding hurdles for a proposed
train from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
In Texas, mayors in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth recently
endorsed a plan by a private company, Texas Central Railway, to
create a high-speed line between the two metropolitan areas.
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Andrew Hay)