Officials get on the train

City officials on the SunRail train

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  • | 12:19 p.m. August 26, 2010
Photo by: Isaac Babcock - Orange County Commissioner Bill Segal steps off the Amtrak train recently. Officials came out in support of SunRail earlier this year.
Photo by: Isaac Babcock - Orange County Commissioner Bill Segal steps off the Amtrak train recently. Officials came out in support of SunRail earlier this year.
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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Patrick Chapin rode the train to work on Monday morning. And when he arrived at the station in Central Park, he was greeted by more than 100 commuter rail supporters.

"Welcome to Winter Park!" a woman yelled from beside the train tracks, surrounded by dozens of signs as the trains wheels screeched to a halt. SunRail's spiritual ancestor had arrived, wearing Amtrak silver and blue.

When the doors opened at the front of the cafe car, a mayor, a county commissioner and a college president stepped out. Then there was Chapin, Winter Park Chamber of Commerce president, who has become an official cheerleader for the commuter rail system.

"SunRail is coming to Winter Park, and SunRail is stopping in Winter Park," Chapin said moments later, standing behind a podium in the shaded grass along the south end of the Winter Park Amtrak station. "I guarantee the bus that took us to Deland is still stuck in I-4 traffic."

He did not mention that the train didn't stop at any of the roughly half dozen stops in a proposed SunRail route before arriving at its destination, but his message was clear: Winter Park needs commuter rail, and he wanted to be the first one on the train.

Six hours later, inside of the Winter Park City Hall chambers, he was defending his point of view, but against little remaining opposition. The tide had turned to inevitability.

The Commission voted unanimously to approve the amended interlocal agreement with Orange County. They await the approval of the county before the agreement can move forward.

"SunRail is coming to Winter Park," Chapin said. "That is not up for debate. SunRail is stopping in Winter Park. That is also not up for debate."

And in an unexpected turn, he thanked the Commission's biggest SunRail skeptic, Beth Dillaha, for pushing for a better deal, if not for the entire system, then for her city.

"Because of her persistence, we have a better opportunity to improve the financial liability (provisions) with our partners in Orange County," Chapin said.

During Monday afternoon's meeting, the Commission put some more touches into an amendment to the interlocal agreement, giving the city a chance to opt out of the system after seven years if it can't find a dedicated funding source, and giving it the option to move the Central Park station or shut it down if it has any adverse effects.

"It's been pooh-poohed that there could be any adverse effect, but as you can see here, we just don't know," Dillaha said, pointing toward statistics that showed increases in crime in other suburbs after building a commuter rail station. "We don't want to have a negative impact for the merchants, for the people downtown."

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper warned that the system could bring too much traffic, possibly necessitating moving the stop.

"It would be tragic if in an attempt to help our merchants and the vital downtown area that we would end up gridlocking the area," Cooper said.

Chapin cautioned the Commission to move forward quickly in its negotiations with the county. He urged the Commission to vote for its changes immediately and send them back to the county for approval.

"A vote against this situation would be a vote against a better situation and a better agreement with Orange County."


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