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SunRail on track for mobile ticketing, full 61 miles of rail

SunRail ridership plummeted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and has not recovered fully.
Orlando City Council presentation
SunRail ridership plummeted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and has not recovered fully.

A couple of big improvements are in the works as SunRail gets ready for a transition from the Florida Department of Transportation to an operator working for Orlando and four Central Florida counties.

Florida Department of Transportation officials provided an update at a city workshop meeting Monday.

Officials noted that SunRail ridership plummeted in 2020 and hasn't fully recovered.

FDOT District 5 Secretary John Tyler said the pandemic caused a "profound change" in how we work and how we get to work.

But SunRail is taking steps to expand and become more convenient. Starting this month, it will phase in new ticket machines and mobile ticketing, enabling ticket purchases using smartphones.

By May 15, SunRail plans to open a station in DeLand, completing after 10 years its line running north and south through Central Florida.

"Both of those two efforts, the completion of the 61 miles -- the extension to DeLand -- and the replacement of the ticket-vending system, really sets us up to complete the transition," Tyler said.

FDOT officials said the date has not yet been set for that hand-off to the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission, which has discussed using LYNX as its operator.

Sunshine Corridor

Florida transportation officials also told the City Council that the estimated price tag is $2 billion for just part of the proposed Sunshine Corridor railway project.

That's for the part connecting Orlando International Airport to the Orange County Convention center. From there, the line would continue south to the Disney Springs area.

The Sunshine Corridor would carry SunRail and Brightline trains and connect to a future Brightline track to Tampa.

"It should deliver incredible results for this community," Tyler said, "but it's going to be an expensive project. So we want to look for all the funding opportunities that we can find.

He pointed to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other federal funding along with support from private companies.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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