News & Reviews News Wire Orlando businesses pledge $125 million for Brightline-SunRail joint route to Disney World (corrected)

Orlando businesses pledge $125 million for Brightline-SunRail joint route to Disney World (corrected)

By Bob Johnston | May 6, 2022

Proposed ‘Sunshine corridor’ airport connection would offer increased commuter frequencies, chance for public financing

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Railroad tracks leading into building with glass walls
Tracks await trains at Brightline’s Orlando International Airport station on Feb. 23, 2022. Platform accommodations would have to be made for the proposed addition of SunRail commuter service. (Bob Johnston)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Businesses who would have been bypassed by Brightline’s original route between Orlando International Airport and Disney World have pledged $125 million toward a project which would serve them through a joint route used by both Brightline and commuter operator SunRail.

Accounts of the meeting were provided in a paywalled Orlando Sentinel report and from other sources.

The funding pledge and other details were revealed Thursday at a workshop following a meeting of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission, SunRail’s parent organization. The concept of marrying Brightline and SunRail service was first disclosed last month [see “Orlando plan would extend SunRail to Disney World …,” Trains News Wire, April 6, 2022].

Although the route’s exact path and costs still haven’t been determined, Universal Studios Orlando and International Drive businesses, including the Orange County Convention Center, today said they would support up to $125 million in bond funding and donate 13 acres for a station site to a public entity created for the project, as well as guaranteeing $13 million in ticket sales and fund track maintenance through that entity.

The new “Sunshine Corridor” would be used by both SunRail commuter trains on frequent headways and hourly Brightline service. Brightline will eventually continue on to Tampa utilizing tracks in the median of Interstate 4.

Currently, the only public transportation option between the airport and downtown Orlando is a Lynx transit bus that can take more than an hour; cab and ride-share fares are in the $50 range.

A consultant hired by the Central Florida Expressway Authority estimates the rail route serving the Universal and International Drive areas, instead of a direct route from the airport to Disney World primarily following Florida’s Route 417 toll road, could cost more than an additional $1.2 billion. Much will depend on how much existing rail right-of-way is incorporated into the plan.

Although it would also be slower, the route would potentially serve more population centers and therefore generate more patronage. It would also funnel passengers to SunRail’s north-south corridor, which currently is primarily a rush-hour-only operation.

But a public component that would help solve Orlando-area gridlock would also be eligible for federal funds as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The Federal Transit Administration and Federal Railroad Administration will each administer their own pots of money requiring a local match, though the agencies have yet to release “Notice of Funding Opportunity” outlines of the competitive requirements.

In order to secure those funds, the counties and Brightline will have to work together to finance the match, but the collaboration of all parties will strengthen their case.

Ben Porritt, Brightline’s Senior VP of Corporate Affairs, recently told News Wire, “This is the type of a big vision project that Central Florida needs, one that will ensure an economic advantage for decades.”

— Updated at 11:55 a.m. CDT to clarify that Brightline will use I-4 to reach Tampa; updated at 7:55 a.m. on May 11 to correct details of pledge involving public entity.

9 thoughts on “Orlando businesses pledge $125 million for Brightline-SunRail joint route to Disney World (corrected)

  1. It will be interesting on how this all plays out as you would think some reasonable actions and support from all players would result in a big win for the Orlando Metro area and Tampa Bay corridor.
    The reality, someone can correct, is that even with I-4 expansion and rebuild through Orlando is that it is still clogged and probably still behind the eight ball in meeting transportation needs. The other reality, the costs to add even more lanes becomes huge as new right of way has to be secured in an urban area. Florida will reap the costs of its success and investing in alternate transportation modes helps not take away..

    1. The I-4 rebuild, especially north of downtown was very much required due to parts of it dating back before the existence of I-4 itself. Poor geometry in places made it very unsafe let alone the traffic volumes.

      There is no denial from the TPO that there is a major congestion problem on I-4 in and around the Disney exits as people leave the parks to return to the I-Drive hotel district to the north, especially between 4-7PM.

      Some accidents and congestion issues are found to be caused by overseas drivers in US rental cars as they enter the expressway on the right immediately try to move all the way over to the left as if they were driving British style of their homeland where the slow lane would be. This causes slowdowns as traffic tries to accommodate their lane changing.

      Disney has resisted most efforts to build better connectivity between the I-Drive District and Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) and have preferred to use shuttle buses to circulate ticket holders.

      The I-Drive District is closer to Universal Studios and the Convention Center, but also has some of the cheaper rooms due to having older, more traditional hotels.

      The New Universal Epic Adventures on Sand Lake will definitely bring in yet more people wanting to see all 3 parks when it completes and the studio literally donating the land for a station and the I-Drive biz providing money is a major breakthrough as this struggle between the epicenters of entertainment in Orlando were putting a major tug of war on where any new rail was going to run.

      But lets be clear, Disney does not want it to be easier to leave, they want it easier to get there and they don’t want to pay for it. They don’t mind a regional carrier like Brightline, but they are not big fans of public transit (except bus) coming through the property, because they see transit as for employees to come and go, not vacationers. Never have, never will.

  2. Brightline has some fuzzy math to do: $1B more construction costs, marginal increases in maintenance and labor costs vs. potentially a lot more riders.

  3. I just don’t see $1 billion public dollars appearing for this. We’ve been down this road many times under many different guises over the last few decades.

    1. Someone can correct me but believe the Feds infrastructure rails funds are not all limited to Amtrak or Public Entities. I think private entities have a shot at the funds. Of course, Amtrak/state supported rail corridors will get a chunk and some more towards CaHSR (California has a huge state budget surplus so see more state dollars to HSR).

      So not necessarily state dollars but see Brightline well positioned to get two fair size Infrastructure rail grants, at more so then Texas Central HSR proposal. One grant supporting continued expansion/build out to Tampa. A shared rail corridor with Sunrail to Disneyworld will only help their application. The second grant will be for Brightline West and can see it being specific to electrification which is desired to take the speeds up a notch when steaming towards Las Vegas. I also see this in conjunction with State and Fed transit dollars building out & extending rail services to Palmdale where you could CaHSR/Amtrak/Brightline West and LA metrolink converging.
      I can only hope that Brightline gets a fair share of Infrastructure funds. Heck, would like to see Texas Central get a grant if Feds send CaHSR more funds.

    2. The Feds may (repeat, may) come up with 80% although likely much less. Then comes the matter of coming up with the rest. Tallahassee is not interested. So now it has to come from local sources. Brightline is not paying any more than already budgeted. Disney will NOT subsidize their competition. That leaves the local county and city governments. Many of these are still smarting over SunRail. The sad bit is that Tampa’s hopes of getting real passenger train service is being battered around in the court of oversized amusement parks.

  4. Are the “partners” willing to deal with Desantis when he takes over Disney World?

    1. DeSantis isn’t taking over Disney World. Word on the street is that Florida wants to negotiate a new self governance deal with the Disney Corporation.

      What that new agreement will be in detail is at this point speculation as the press goes sideways over itself in the extreme.

      Florida knows who butters the tax revenue bread, including the one Mr DeSantis, so by revoking their self-governance charter from 1967 simply provides the starting ground for a new governance deal.

      Disney also knows where their bread is buttered and isn’t really interested in relocating the park, so now that the floor has been set, they can started negotiating in interest.

      When it is all said and done, they will make some big announcement in 2023 just before the revocation becomes active that they have a deal.

      My guess is that they will lose some privileges like the ability to build airports (the one they built is still there but not active) or nuclear power plants and some other extraordinary items, but there will be some language that curtails their political activism as well.

      And while DeSantis takes all of the political heat for his moves, Disney isn’t blameless either. Their governmental relations team was clearly asleep at the switch, their CEO (Chapek) was undermined by the former one (Iger) which shows they have a governance and boardroom problem which actually started a few years ago and has now bubbled up again. For those who monitor these things Iger (who retired as CEO) has been interfering with Chapek with frequency. Chapek is a business guy with a nose for the numbers while Iger was the better face to the people and staff but was making some poor artistic/financial decisions just before he retired.

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