Linking SunRail to Orlando-Tampa HSR

Discussion about Florida commuter rail operations including Miami/Dade Metrorail, Sunrail (Orlando), and Tri-County Commuter Rail Authority in southern Florida. All Aboard Florida (Brightline) is discussed here: Florida East Coast Railway).

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Linking SunRail to Orlando-Tampa HSR

Postby jstolberg » Thu Feb 18, 2010 8:30 pm

"Two train systems meant to usher in a new era of transportation in Metro Orlando are slated to run along separate tracks that will intersect west of Orlando International Airport.

"But, as it stands, there is no planned connection where passengers from the $1.2 billion SunRail commuter train could transfer to the $2.6 billion high-speed train or vice versa. How is that possible?

"Train supporters say they are now working on a link, which potentially would increase ridership for both systems. But it appears little thought initially was given to bringing the trains together because few ever thought the projects would happen, much less at about the same time."
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/os-connect-sunrail-high-speed,0,3240474.story?page=1

As we've discussed here, the weakness in the Tampa-Orlando route is that it doesn't get anywhere near downtown Orlando. While direct service between city centers is best, a convenient transfer point between HSR and commuter rail would certainly be an improvement over the current plan.
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Re: Linking SunRail to Orlando-Tampa HSR

Postby David Benton » Fri Feb 19, 2010 12:40 am

i would say such a link is crucial .
The key to public transport is connectivity . the minute there is a missing link , out comes the private auto .
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Re: Linking SunRail to Orlando-Tampa HSR

Postby Matt Johnson » Fri Feb 19, 2010 12:49 am

Indeed, can't believe a link wasn't part of the plan all along!
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Re: Linking SunRail to Orlando-Tampa HSR

Postby NE2 » Fri Feb 19, 2010 8:42 am

How about building four tracks between the crossing (or Disney, but that would require a bunch of bridge work) and the airport, with two for SunRail? Then SunRail would serve the airport and connections would be possible. The only problem might be train frequency, so for that reason a direct transfer at the crossing could be best.
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Re: Linking SunRail to Orlando-Tampa HSR

Postby miamicanes » Sun Feb 21, 2010 9:18 pm

The problem with having Sunrail detour to the airport HSR station is the fact that it would realistically add at least 10 minutes to the time it takes to get from Kissimmee to downtown Orlando. If they did it, they might as well forget about Sunrail south of the airport, because it would add WAY too much delay to the trip between Kissimmee and downtown.

A better idea would be to build a limited-service HSR station directly above the point where the HSR tracks cross over Sunrail's tracks, strictly for passengers without checked baggage and not requiring assistance -- ie, commuters from Lakeland and Tampa heading to downtown Orlando who can exit the train within 15 seconds of the doors opening, so the total HSR delay between the Convention Center and MCO wouldn't be more than a minute. The real world delay would be fairly small, because at that point the HSR train would still be decelerating or accelerating as it approached or departed from the MCO station. To take care of passengers who DO need assistance or have checked baggage, they'd have a shuttle between the MCO station and the nearby Sunrail station, but forcing EVERYONE to use the shuttle in lieu of the limited-service station would profoundly hurt the HSR train's potential commuter market.

IMHO, the MCO HSR station itself is totally in the wrong place. Let's be honest... 95% of the people boarding or exiting HSR trains won't be making connections with airplanes, they'll be heading to the rental car center, the parking garage, or the airport's ground transportation center. If they built the HSR station above the point where the HSR tracks cross above Sunrail's tracks and just built a bigger parking garage for use by both Sunrail and HSR passengers, right there they'd satisfy the needs of at least half the passengers who'd otherwise need to go anywhere near the main terminal. Build a peoplemover that runs straight to the MCO rental car center, then continues to the main terminal, and most of the people who'd be on that peoplemover will end up getting off at the first stop anyway.

An ideal solution would be to combine HSR intercity and Sunrail into a single corridor with spur, running trains that can run at high speeds on their own track, but also run in mixed traffic on legacy track to extend the system's reach far beyond what would ever be viable if every inch had to be 100% HSR. Here's what I have in mind:

  • All HSR trains used (for the next 25-50 years, at least) are Talgo XXI/Acela type -- able to run at high speeds in their own corridor, but legally allowed to run at lower speeds in corridors (occasionally) shared with freight trains to extend their reach.
  • Coming from Tampa, the new HSR mainline would approach MCO above Taft-Vineland Road, then turn north as it approached the current CSX corridor west of MCO.
  • The "MCO" station is actually located along the current CSX mainline, somewhere near E. Landstreet Road. There's a CSX freight track running along the corridor's edge, but at this point there's no distinction between "Sunrail" and "HSR" -- both are high speed, and both run along the same (probably elevated) tracks west and north of MCO. West of MCO, it's 100% HSR all the way to Tampa. North of MCO, it's 100% HSR to downtown, continuing more or less as it is now the remainder of the way to Jacksonville.
  • The MCO station has its own parking garage (used for both HSR intercity and Sunrail commuters), and has a peoplemover connecting it to the MCO rental car center and terminal.
  • Tampa-Orlando-Jacksonville trains stop at Disney, I-Drive, MCO, downtown, Sanford, southwest Jacksonville, and downtown Jacksonville. Ditto, in reverse.
  • Miami-Orlando-Jacksonville trains run along CSX from WPB to Auburndale, then continue north along a new track between Auburndale and the new HSR mainline at I-4.
  • Someday, if the HSR mainline gets extended to Port Canaveral, it would either run along 528 all the way, or would diverge from 528 east of the airport and run along the airport's southern edge. If it approaches from the north, it would simply merge to the south, and trains would run between Disney and Port Canaveral. If it approaches from the south, it would merge and continue north to the MCO station, then back out of the station to the point south of the junction, then head west in its forward direction. If the train literally runs only to Disney, skipping the back-out maneuver might be tolerable, but if it continues all the way to Tampa, it's absolutely mandatory to keep passengers happy by keeping the train running in a forward direction (relative to the seats) for the rest of the trip. If FEC cooperates, the Canaveral-Disney route could be extended into Tampa-Orlando(excluding downtown)-Canaveral-Daytona-StAugustine-Jacksonville (with a similar backing-out maneuver at Canaveral to keep the train facing forward between the spur to the port and Jacksonville).

In this situation, the "Airport" station would be optimized to prioritize its layout for the majority of its most time-sensitive customers. Commuters riding long distances to Orlando 3-5 days/week would have direct service from Tampa & Lakeland to downtown Orlando, MCO, and Disney (all major employment centers where lots of people work, tourism notwithstanding) via the Tampa-Orlando-Jacksonville train. Passengers from Orlando would be able to park in a garage immediately adjacent to the HSR station, and probably be better off than they'd have been parking at the general 'airport' garage (closer, cheaper, and fewer unrelated incoming and outgoing passengers to dodge and intermix with). Passengers needing rental cars would be only slightly worse-off than they'd have been under FDOT''s current plans (maybe even better off, if the peoplemover LITERALLY dropped them off within a few feet of the rental car center, instead of making them walk a half mile through the airport to reach it). Finally, the minority edge case (HSR passengers genuinely moving between plane and train) would be only minimally inconvenienced... and passengers coming from Sunrail would almost certainly be better off than they'd be under ANY scenario involving a shuttle van/bus between the Sunrail station and airport terminal.

Time-wise, if I had godlike powers to implement this, I'd race ahead to build the HSR mainline between Tampa and I-Drive with all speed, since the federal dollars have an expiration date. However, I'd take an extra year or so to seriously re-evaluate how HSR and Sunrail should work together, and go back to the drawing board for both. For now, I'd take the tracks down to ground level west of CSX, and build a temporary at-grade junction (like Auburndale) to allow trains from Tampa & Miami to continue (for now) to Orlando's Amtrak station while the new HSR corridor between downtown Orlando and MCO, plus the new stations at Downtown Orlando & MCO, are under construction. Once the new HSR track is done, and the new stations are open, the old Amtrak station can be bulldozed & replaced with a new Sunrail station that looks like of like an agglomeration of Miami's biggest southern Metrorail stations (Dadeland South, Dadeland North, and Douglas Road, in particular).

Simultaneously with the HSR Tampa-Orlando line, I'd build a connector between Auburndale and the new HSR mainline, to allow trains to and from Miami to use it for the final run to Tampa & Orlando. Sunrail would initially launch along the "Baby Bullet" corridor between Tampa and DeLand.

Once the intercity trains were running between Tampa-Orlando-Jacksonville and Miami-WPB-Auburndale-Tampa/Orlando-Jacksonville, the new MCO & downtown stations were done, and baby bullet Sunrail was running between Tampa and Sanford (serving all points in between), I'd build the southern spur of Sunrail from MCO to Kissimmee, with trains that run back and forth between Kissimmee and downtown Orlando along the former CSX corridor. Since the overwhelming bulk of train traffic will be carried on the new HSR corridor, the Kissimmee branch south of MCO can be left mostly single-track and served by a couple of DMUs (no spare DMU needed... if one breaks, just use the spare baby bullet trainset instead... or, if the downtime is scheduled in advance, borrow one of Tri-Rail's DMUs).
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