ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Thursday marked the end of SunRail’s first year of service and Florida Department of Transportation officials are calling it a success, even though ridership fell short of the needed 4,300 riders per day.
After a year in action, many are still wondering if the trains will start running on the weekends.
Richard Pannullo, the owner of Panullo’s restaurant on Park Avenue in Winter Park, said SunRail is having a huge impact on his business.
“We see a lot of traffic coming from the north end of town; DeBary, Sanford, a lot of families,” he said. “Hopefully summertime we’ll have families bring their kids to Winter Park. We feel it is the only destination on the rail.”
Pannullo wishes the train ran on the weekends too, but the extra service wouldn’t be a cheap addition.
SunRail needs $200 million to keep the trains running in 10 year period and weekend service will likely only happen once weekday service creates enough riders to cover at least 30 percent of the bills.
The trains would need 4,300 riders a day.
SunRail reached that goal in March, which was the same month of the Winter Park Art Festival and the trains operated for the weekend.
During that weekend 26,000 people rode SunRail.
“It was great for our lunch service," said Pannullo.
April’s numbers were not available.
On average, SunRail had 534 riders a day, which is 12 percent short of its goal.
With a few adjustments and maybe some upcoming traffic headaches with the Interstate 4 expansion, FDOT predicts they can get those riders on track.
“Once I-4 construction really gets rolling we anticipate and hope a number of people will jump on the trains,” said FDOT spokesperson Steve Olson.
FDOT officials are looking at how they can tweak weekday service so there is not an hour and 45 minute gap between trains during the day.
That will come up at SunRail’s May 15 meeting.