ORLANDO, Fla. — Some of the first tracks for 170-mile Virgin Trains rail service to connect Orlando International Airport to South Florida will be put in place this winter, officials overseeing the project announced Thursday.
The $4 billion project is the first privately held passenger rail in the U.S. in 100 years. The Orlando connection is expected to start service in 2022.
It will have a $2.4 billion economic impact, resulting in more than 10,000 construction jobs project-wide and 2,000 jobs in post-rail construction.
The infrastructure project began over the summer. The rail mostly runs along the 528 heading eastbound heading to the coast, with four zones:
• Orlando International Airport
• Through Airport grounds
• East 37 miles along the Beachline Expressway
• 120 miles south to West Palm Beach
The project also boasts some big improvements along the corridor. The route along the 528 to I-95 will include 30 new bridges, plus an additional 25 down to West Palm Beach.
Some of those bridges will allow drivers to avoid passing through railroad crossings. There will also be three tunnels, two of which will be on the 528 between I-95 and US-1.
As a result, some sections of the road will have to be raised 35 feet so the train can pass underneath.
Virgin Trains USA officials on Thursday provided Central Florida media with a behind-the-scenes look at the Orlando extension for the rail service, which will depart from MCO from Terminal C, as well as construction of the rail service through the "Cocoa Curve," where the train turns south to head toward West Palm Beach.
It's a tough and tight spot for the high-speed rail to turn south with not much real estate. The train tracks will have to go over and under the 528 twice through tunnels between I-95 and US-1.
"The reason we have that is so that we can have the radius of the curves great enough so we can keep train speeds high," said Mike Cegelis, executive vice president of infrastructure for Virgin Trains USA.
The 170 miles of track will use 491,000 rail ties, almost 2.4 million tons of granite and limestone and 225 million pounds of steel.
One of the two stops showcased on the tour is now a cleared spot of land just south of the airport, but it will eventually house a $70 million vehicle maintenance facility that will cover 138,000 square feet, or more than the length of two football fields. It will include 6 miles of maintenance and storage track that can service 10 trains daily, and house a 30-ton overhead crane for servicing trains, and an 80,000-gallon biodiesel farm.
Once the facility becomes operational, it "will employ about 160 people," Virgin Trains USA President Patrick Goddard said.
More stops are possible in the future
Goddard said Virgin Trains is in discussion with Walt Disney World Resort and local transportation leaders for SunRail, Port Canaveral and Cocoa about possible connections, but didn't elaborate further. However, Goddard said, Virgin Trains will be "a very different operation" from SunRail.
"We are going to be operating an express intercity train that is connecting cities that are 200-to-300 miles apart -- cities that are too short to fly and too long to drive."
Here is more information about the upcoming rail service when it launches from MCO in 2022:
• Hours of operation: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
• Each train can carry 240 people
• A one-way ticket will be between $60 and $70
• The train will make 32 trips a day, or 16 round trips.
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