Sunrail airport expansion promises big payoff – with a big price tag

ORLANDO, Fla. — FDOT leaders exploring the possibility of expanding Sunrail to big-ticket destinations in Central Florida are setting expectations about the scale of the undertaking early in the process.

The so-called “Sunshine Corridor,” long a goal of area leaders, would see a new line of the commuter system brought to Orlando International Airport, the Orange County Convention Center/International Drive, and Disney Springs, with additional trains running between the airport and downtown Orlando and Kissimmee.

In his first presentation Thursday, FDOT’s regional secretary, John Tyler, laid out some of the basics being worked out as analysts figure out how much the line would be utilized – and how much it would cost.


Ridership to the airport and I-drive would be “strong,” Tyler said, adding that the exact projections fluctuated greatly depending on how often the trains would run and other variables still being worked on.

Current models show trains to the airport running 15 minutes from Disney all day long, while trains from the cities would run every 15 to 30 minutes depending on the time of the day.

It would take a passenger 21 minutes to get from Kissimmee to the airport, 25 minutes to get from Disney Springs to the airport, and 28 minutes to get from Lynx Central Station to the airport, projections show.

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However, the cost of the project is already giving some local leaders a reason to pause. The projected cost to run tracks between the airport, Sunrail’s main line and the convention center would top $2 billion, Tyler said.

Those costs include modifying the airport’s new train station – which was built with the expectation Sunrail would one day connect to it -- to accommodate the Sunshine Corridor’s trains. The projections expect the line to be elevated to avoid road crossings and inevitable car crashes. There’s also signaling work and, of course, the purchasing of the trains themselves.

One of the big factors that could raise or lower the cost, Tyler said, was whether Sunrail leaders decide to build a new station to let passengers transfer between the different lines, or if passengers would simply transfer at Lynx Central, Kissimmee or the airport. A new station would carry a hefty price tag compared to utilizing existing infrastructure.

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Another factor is how much private investment is involved. Universal has already proposed donating the land for the I-Drive station, and Brightline – which would share much of the tracks – could pick up some of the cost, though Tyler was careful to say nothing had been negotiated.

Some state lawmakers also plan to fight to allow Orange County to spend Tourism Development Tax dollars – paid by visitors – to pay for infrastructure like the Sunshine Corridor starting next year, lowering local taxpayers’ bill.

“We’re excited about the future,” Tyler told board members Thursday. “I know it’s a long process.”

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