The ground started to rumble again in the past few weeks along the tracks in Winter Park and Maitland. But it wasn’t a mile-long freight train rolling through town. The tracks, long ribbons of steel spanning the length of a handful of train cars, were coming to be laid down for SunRail. The track beds are being smoothed out. Station plans are being finalized.
In the past few weeks a sign shot up in front of the recently razed Parker Lumber yard in Maitland advertising that a new train was on the way. Now SunRail is finally revealing its first physical presence in Central Florida.
That includes fixing some problems so small they might not be able to be seen, but that could keep passengers comfortable. Maintenance work began Monday on nearly seven miles of rail starting at the Orlando Amtrak Station and moving north toward Lake Avenue in Maitland.
“They’re doing slight adjustments to the track to make it more rideable,” Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman April Heller said. “You can’t necessarily see how off it is. I don’t believe the average person would be able to see that.”
It’s all being done in concert with secondary tracks being laid and foundations being poured for SunRail stations along the 61.5-mile track.
“It’s all happening simultaneously,” Heller said. “We’re doing what we can when we can.”
In Winter Park, designs for a SunRail station that would incorporate an Amtrak station are now being finalized, combining the longstanding train station with the more-modern commuter train.
“It’s both aesthetically beautiful and easy to use,” Mayor Ken Bradley said. “The on-off capability of getting to Park Avenue will be very convenient.”
Getting riders to and from the station is a top priority in Maitland, Mayor Howard Schieferdecker said. The city is working with Lynx to set up bus systems to take SunRail riders to key locations in the city.
“Obviously the Maitland Center is a huge stop,” Schieferdecker said. “Servicing our major office park is a huge consideration.”
He said he hoped that with SunRail and Maitland’s connection with Lynx, the city will be able to jump the gun on improvements to Interstate 4, which will be coming after the SunRail system comes online.
“They’re being very smart in that, waiting until after SunRail is in operation so people can try that out first,” Schieferdecker said.
Bradley said Winter Park is also working on improving how SunRail will connect travelers, not only for those who visit Park Avenue, but for potential SunRail riders who would drive in to the city to ride the rails elsewhere. That includes working to add more parking in the area. But he said that he expects Winter Park to be more of a destination than an embarkation point.
Bradley said he’s excited to see the project getting on track.
“It’s thrilling to see an idea that’s now been funded to become reality,” Bradley said. “We’re living in an age that decades from now we’ll look back and think what an exciting time it was to be a part of it all. This is a great thing for Central Florida.”