County Council members seek expansion to Daytona Beach
BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
SunRail officials have announced that passengers will ride Central Florida’s new commuter rail system free for two weeks beginning the first day of service on May 1.
The free service will last through May 16, allowing passengers to experience commuting on SunRail, and becoming familiar with the schedules. Regular revenue service for paying passengers is scheduled to begin on May 19 with more than 12,000 pre-sold passes already purchased.
On Saturday, March 29, the Florida Department of Transportation invited the community to the new Volusia County SunRail station in Debary for an exclusive sneak peek inside the trains.
The first phase will have 12 stations from Debary in Volusia County through downtown Orlando, ending at Sand Lake Road in Orange County’s tourist district.
“It was nice,” Sandra Cosmas of DeLand said of the new rail system. “I work in Orlando so I’ll try it out a few times when it is fully up and running and see if it is really worth the time of driving to the station, parking and then getting to work.”
SunRail is a commuter rail system, which means its primary purpose is to get people from home to work, and then back home again, while providing an alternative to driving I-4 every day. Its peak operating hours are going to be when I-4 is at its worst: 5:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. During those times, trains will run every half hour. During off peak, trains will run every two hours. The last trains will start their trip from the ends of the line between 9 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. so they can be done and off the tracks by 11 p.m.
“The SunRail commuter train is a partnership that includes Osceola, Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties; the City of Orlando; and the state and federal governments. The County Council showed leadership and courage in voting to become a SunRail funding partner, as it is no small commitment of county resources,” Volusia County Councilmember Patricia Northey explained.
Service for SunRail begins May 1, connecting Volusia County with the growing Central Florida region and I-4 corridor, one of Florida’s biggest economic engines. This train represents a Vision for Central Florida’s future transportation picture; it will relieve congested I-4; it will be good for the environment; and it is already spurring transit-oriented development around the stations, she explained.
During the free trial period, SunRail ambassadors will be available at each station and on board trains to answer any questions that SunRail riders might have. The Ambassadors will also be available on May 19, and for several weeks thereafter, to assist customers with pass purchases at ticket vending machines located on each platform, and to remind riders to “Tap On” at ticket validators before boarding SunRail, and to “Tap Off” at their final destination.
“Check out the project coming out of the ground around Florida Hospital in Orlando.
It is changing the landscape and the development of the community around the hospital. Right here at home, DeBary, with its green field, is well suited to capitalize on the opportunities of new development,” Northey explained.
“SunRail benefits all commuters and it will be a welcomed alternative for those 35,000 daily commuters that call Volusia home, but earn their living in Seminole and Orange County,” she continued.
Talks of station coming to Daytona
“As a former I-4 hostage for 20 years, I am confident that we will have no problem filling the trains. In addition to being light, bright, and handicap accessible, the rail cars are functional and modern, with Wi-Fi and bike racks.”
Northey would like the expansion to come to the eastern side of Volusia to Daytona Beach.
The Stop in DeBary is just the beginning of the potential for rail development in Volusia County, Northey explained. Phase 2 of the rail project sends the train north to a terminus point in DeLand. Currently the Volusia TPO is undertaking an Alternatives Analysis that will look at route options for a Daytona Beach rail connection. There already exists a rail envelop inside Interstate 4. My current thinking is to move the DeLand station south to State Rd 472, run a spur to the Interstate, and point that train east to the Airport! It is important to link the east side of the county to the west and than to the region through rail, giving everyone options for mobility.
“Can you imagine reading your paper, working away on your laptop, or perhaps enjoying quiet conversation with your neighbor as the train quietly glides along the tracks to your workplace? All in a very affordable rate, providing mobility for those who are looking for an alternative to an automobile , as well as those who cannot afford the costs associated with an automobile. SunRail works for all,” Northey exclaimed.
“But there is more to SunRail then just as a transportation alternative. Many of us see this rail line, not as the end, but as the beginning of adventure for those of us who value natured-based tourism. Volusia is known for its ECHO assets and I am confident we can nurture and sustain an economy that showcases the best of us without harming that which is special to us.”
Northey advises Volusia County residents to stay tuned for more information from the council as a plan is in the works to bring bicycling tourists to Volusia this summer via SunRail to ride the River to Sea Loop.