Brightline’s proposal to build and operate a higher-speed passenger train from Tampa to Orlando includes provisions for three possible stops in the Orlando area, including one that could serve Walt Disney World and one that could resolve Orlando’s frustrated desire to connect SunRail to the airport.
The new Brightline proposal, submitted Nov. 7 and accepted Wednesday by the Florida Department of Transportation for further negotiations, is for a private passenger train service that would run from a still-not-identified spot in downtown Tampa to the already-constructed train station at Orlando International Airport, as soon as 2022.
Along the way, Brightline proposes a stop, eventually, in Lakeland, plus the prospects of one near Disney World, and one at the SunRail station at Meadow Woods in south Orange County.
The 88-mile route, if it’s constructed and opened for business, could give Brightline, soon to be known as Virgin Trains USA, exclusive high-speed passenger train service from Miami to Orlando to Tampa.
Brightline already operates private passenger trains linking Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. It has secured financing authority and other requirements and is moving toward beginning construction of a line connecting West Palm Beach to the Orlando International Airport, which includes some vague suggestions that it could add stops in Florida’s Treasure Coast and Florida’s Space Coast.
Brightline first proposed the Orlando-Tampa line last spring, leading FDOT to open for proposals from other companies. None came in. So Brightline won the exclusive rights to negotiate with the state for rights-of-way along highways to open a corridor for a new railroad.
Brightline’s proposal, released earlier this week, also opens the prospects for the Disney and SunRail links, addressing two long-held and long-frustrating train visions.
– The one near Disney World would be a jumping-off or jumping-on point for tourists coming from or heading out in both directions on Brightline, South Florida or Tampa.
That would respond to a long-held and problematic dream, directly connecting Florida’s two largest metropolitan areas with the world’s largest tourist attraction, a dream not necessarily shared by Disney.
Two previous proposals for high-speed trains connecting Orlando and Tampa, in the early 2000s and early 2010s, had toyed with Disney stops. But both times there were complications, including Disney’s reluctance to give up its exclusive transportation services between the Orlando airport and its properties, and fierce opposition from Disney’s tourism competitors along International Drive and Universal Orlando.
As reported last week by The Disney Blog‘s John Frost, financial documents filed by Brightline’s backer Virgin Trains included a map of the Tampa-Orlando route that vaguely included a stop at Disney.
Two weeks ago the British company led by Richard Branson invested in Brightline, which will lead to Brightline being rebranded as Virgin Trains USA.
The same general idea of a stop near but off Disney property showed up in Brightline’s proposal to the Florida Department of Transportation.
The stop likely would not be on Disney property, and would therefore not require the company’s permission. Nor would it give Universal or other competitors much leverage for opposition. The most recent high-speed proposal, canceled by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, had included a stop in the area of Interstate 4 and SR 417 to serve Disney World. The previous proposal, which died after Florida voters in 2004 canceled a high-speed train commitment in the Florida Constitution, had offered a compromise: stops outside Disney and also on I-Drive.
The Brightline proposal resurrects the prospect of one near I-4 and SR 417. There is no mention of an I-Drive stop, and the proposed route would not go near I-Drive anyway, in Brightline’s preferred alignment plan.
“We are in the process of studying alternatives for the rail corridor connection from SR 417 to I-4, and are considering a station in this area,” the proposal states in one section. And “Brightline is considering a station and having early discussions with existing property owners in the area in which SR 417 connects with I-4,” the proposal states in another section.
– A potential Meadow Woods stop brings additional possibility.
Central Florida’s SunRail commuter train runs north-south from DeBary to Poinciana, with the key hub in downtown Orlando, but with no connection to the airport. SunRail, Orange County, Orlando, and the Florida Department of Transportation have looked for several years at several options, including other private proposals and a SunRail connector, to link the SunRail line to the airport. But none of them has ever gotten much beyond the back-of-a-napkin phase of planning.
Brightline’s preferred alignment — and it’s just that at the moment until negotiations might secure necessary rights of way leases — has the train coming east into Orlando via State Road 417, then north along the SunRail tracks, technically known as the Central Florida Rail Corridor, to SunRail’s Meadow Woods station. From there, Brightline proposes its train heading east again along a utility corridor that SunRail had contemplated for its own possible route to Orlando International Airport.
The Orlando Utilities Commission already has signaled its willingness to work with Brightline to develop that final few miles.
“Central Florida Rail Corridor: this proposal includes the consideration of Brightline providing a cross-platform connection to SunRail within the Central Florida Rail Corridor, and therefore provides the opportunity for SunRail passengers to connect to Orlando airport as well as Brightline passengers to downtown Orlando and Kissimmee,” Brightline’s proposal states.
– The proposal also includes a potential stop in Lakeland, but not right away. Such a stop also was contemplated during the two previous high-speed rail proposals for Tampa and Orlando, largely for political reasons, to appease key opposition in Lakeland.
“Brightline will consider a station in the future in the Lakeland area, and will plan our alignment in a manner that can accommodate this without impact to I-4 and Brightline operations,” the proposal states.
– The Tampa station remains shrouded, though Brightline’s proposal states, “several locations under consideration in downtown Tampa, with extensive coordination already in place with the city of Tampa and multiple property owners. Access to this station is carefully planned with the city.”
Brightline’s proposal envisions construction starting as early as late 2019, and being completed by 2022.
Brightline proposes trains running hourly along the corridor.
“Once complete, the expansion of Brightline from Orlando to Tampa will provide reliable on-time departures and arrivals from Orlando airport to Tampa in a manner which is not available to motorists today. I-4 between Orlando and Tampa is one of the most congested highways in the nation,” the company’s proposal states.