SunRail is a Monday through Friday commuter-rail train service operating in the Metro Orlando area and it roughly follows the route of I-4, the busiest interstate in Florida. Originally known as “Central Florida Commuter Rail”, SunRail is Florida’s second commuter train service after Tri-Rail which operates in South Florida around Miami.
The SunRail service operates over 49 miles of the former CSX rail tracks from Poinciana in Osceola County, through Sand Lake Road in south Orange County and up through Downtown Orlando to DeBary in Volusia County.
The original service operated over 32 miles from Sand Lake Road to DeBary using 12 stations. On July 30, 2018 the service was extended 17 miles to a further 4 stations from Sand Lake Road south through Kissimmee as far as the new Poinciana Station in Osceola County. Construction on the southern spur started in April 2016.
There are more frequent trains during the morning and evening rush hours with trains about every 30 minutes. During the rest of the day the service runs every one to three hours. First trains start between 5:00 to 6:00 a.m. and last trains leave between 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. with around 20 round trips per day.
At this time there are no services on Public holidays or at weekends unless sponsored by an event.
Fares are based on the number of zones (county lines) you travel through with a $2 fee plus $1 for each additional zone. Total journey time from one end of the line to the other (from DeBarry to Poinciana) is about 90 minutes and costs $5 one-way or $9.50 return.
The SunRail service operates from DeBarry in the north to Poinciana in the South (from July 30, 2018) from a mix of existing Amtrak stations and new purpose built SunRail stations:
- Lake Mary
- Altamonte Springs
- Winter Park (Amtrak)
- Florida Hospital Health Village
- Lynx Central Station
- Church Street Station
- Orlando Health (Amtrak)
- Sand Lake Road
- Meadow Woods
- Kissimmee (Amtrak)
All the stations from Maitland heading north and Sand Lake Road heading south, offer free parking. Note that the new SunRail stations do not have restrooms or ticket offices. Tickets must be purchased from ticket machines located on the platforms.
There is also a further 12 mile northern extension planned to take the train as far as DeLand but after several funding rounds, there was still no money to finance it. In February 2021, the Florida Department of Transportation gave the go-ahead to complete the 12 mile section from DeBary to DeLand which will take about three years to complete.
SunRail also has options on extending from Sanford to Orlando Sanford International Airport and there have been studies to look at extending to Daytona Beach on the Atlantic coast.
Once the new internodal train station opens at Orlando International Airport in 2021, SunRail hopes to connect the airport to their existing route at the Meadow Woods station, subject to raising the necessary funding.
To realistically service the airport, trains would need to operate seven days a week instead of just weekdays and run for longer hours to provide a worthwhile service. For the time being, a bus service to the airport operates from the Sand Lake SunRail station in south Orange County.
Brightline is looking to connect Orlando International Airport with Miami and there are also studies suggesting either a light rail of Maglev service to International Drive in Orlando.
SunRail has a fleet of 11 MPI MP32PH-Q diesel locomotives (rebuilt Morrison-Knudsen GP40WH-2 locomotives) and twenty double decker coaches built by Bombadier. Typical train units consist of a single locomotive and two double decker passenger carriages with each carriage seating up to 142 passengers.
The carriages are wheelchair accessible and have provisions for storing bicycles. There are also restrooms, electrical and USB outlets and free wi-fi onboard.
SunRail Funding Issues
Service uptake has been slow since the service started on May 2, 2014. Initially there was around 3,600 passengers each day but that number dropped to a little over 3,000 but crept up to around 3,800 per day with an increase in frequency of the service.
Initially the service is being funded by the state operated Florida Department of Transportation but ultimately come May 2021, the running costs would be picked up by the various counties SunRail services, namely Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola. This deadline has now been extended for a further three years.
However the service is in jeopardy of failing to ever make a profit as the number of passengers riding on SunRail is 2017 fell compared to 2016. Studies in 2017 have shown that with the current passengers numbers it actually costs more to sell the train tickets than the revenue it generates.
The hope is that now the southern expansion has opened, the project might break even if the uptake on passengers using the southern extension meets expected targets. As of August 2018, daily passenger numbers were around the 6,000 to 6,500 mark but the COVID-19 pandemic has seen numbers fall to less than 1,000 per day.
See the official website sunrail.com (opens in a new window) for train schedules and ticket prices.