ALL Aboard for the Opening Day of SunRail’s Commuter Train Service

Posted on: May 1, 2014 in Transportation News

Excitement built for months as our region prepared for its first commuter rail service, and the opening showed just how big SunRail’s fan club is.

There was a day of celebration and speeches on April 30 as the train made its inaugural ride with elected officials and other dignitaries, ending in a giant event at the Sand Lake Road station. Then, SunRail threw the doors open and let the public ride – for free — on May 1, with the promise of free service for the next two weeks. People started hopping on the sleek yellow-splashed cars before the real sun was even out of bed, and the crowds grew and grew and grew.

At mid-day, trains that were already full to capacity were pulling up to platforms crowded with more eager would-be riders, and SunRail team members had to apologize and ask them to try later. On board, it was standing room only, but folks were in a party mood. They talked about their commutes, they talked about transit in other cities, they talked about what you could do up and down the line.

They quizzed the SunRail and FDOT staffers onboard about the rail system. Mostly they talked about the trains – so smooth, so pretty, so great to finally have them in Central Florida.

We rode the SunRail route up and back, passing each of the 12 stations – most of them twice. We sat upstairs and downstairs and stood like sardines. We talked to the first-day riders and had a lot of fun.  Here are some of the folks we met:

Of course, there were people going to work – the commuters who can ultimately make commuter rail a success.

  • Two co-workers from Sanford were riding together to the Orlando Health area, chatting about their jobs and admiring the sites.
  • A woman who lives in the Sand Lake Road area was heading to the Florida Hospital station, then planned a short walk to her job at the Orlando Science Center. She chatted with seat-mates and texted to friends as she rode.

Some people remembered a previous golden age of rail and wanted to know what the new version was all about.

  • A man who said he hadn’t ridden a train in 55 years was passing the time from Maitland to DeBary remembering how much fun rail travel can be and planning how to take his granddaughter on a future trip with him.
  • A 90-year-old lady from DeBary recalled the long train trip that brought her and her young family to Central Florida more than half a century ago, depositing them in Winter Park. She got off the train to get a look at the rebuilt station there.

Others were gathering information for business and pleasure.

  • Two men from Brevard County were riding from Altamonte Springs to DeBary and back, sending video and messages from the train to co-workers on the Space Coast.
  • A woman whose sister wants to visit soon from South Carolina was taking note of things to do up and down the line and hoping she could treat her sibling to a SunRail tour of the area.

And there were more – young families who wanted their kids to see history in the making, couples on a joy ride, young adults, visitors from outside the area. They were, in short, a great cross-section of Central Florida in their ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and motivations.

So, if opening day is any indication, SunRail will appeal to a broad base of riders and potential riders. When they call out “All aboard,” they really mean ALL.

For more information about SunRail commuter rail, click here.

To see our photos from the Grand Opening celebration at Sand Lake Road station, click here.

For photos of our first-day ride on SunRail, and some of the people we met, click here.

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