Central Florida’s vision of a new commuter rail seemed closer to reality than ever before on Monday as city, county and state officials cut the ribbon outside the Winter Park SunRail Station.
The train stop beside Central Park was the first of 12 stations opened along a 32-mile route that runs from Orlando, up through Seminole County and stopping in DeBary.
SunRail’s double-decker trains are set to start carrying passengers on May 1.
“Isn’t this indeed a special day? Not just special day in Winter Park, but a special day in our region,” Mayor Ken Bradley said. “I would even say a special day in the United States.”
Residents had the chance to tour a SunRail train after the ceremony and step inside the new station before it greets and sends off passengers. Winter Park’s history of trains helped inspire the design of the new building, said John Cunningham, co-founder and creative design partner of ACi Architects Inc. A Craftsman-style ticket window and seating area inside greets visitors with an old-timey look while the city’s signature peacock sits atop the roof, immortalized on a weather vane.
Bradley and local artist Ruth Attaway took a moment to unveil a stained glass window depicting the city’s peacock crested seal. The artwork – created by Attaway – will sit above an archway inside, casting rays of colored light into the station’s atrium.
The ribbon cutting marked a successful completion of a project Winter Park that began in 2006, when a task force was formed to determine the feasibility and benefits of a multi-county train system going through the city.
Residents voted in support of adding a SunRail station two years later.
“SunRail was going to come through our city [whether we liked it] or not,” Bradley said. “The question before us was whether we were going to have a stop.”
“I can think of nothing worse than if SunRail was going by us without a stop today. This is going to make a huge difference in our city.”
Residents could save on gas money and avoid heavy traffic by using SunRail, but advantages will come to residents even if they never hop aboard the new train system, Bradley said.
“We have people who come from all four counties to work in our hospital, so the citizens of Winter Park are going to benefit whether or not they ever get on the SunRail,” he said. “They’re going to benefit because people who serve them are going to use SunRail.”
Local residents anxiously await the opening of Maitland’s SunRail station on April 11, Mayor Howard Schieferdecker said.
“We have the Maitland Center which has 17,000 employees,” Schieferdecker said. “…The key is getting east to west, getting passengers from the station to the Maitland Center and back.”
A future FDOT project that would expand Maitland Boulevard to six lanes would help support a new transportation system to the center, he said.
The planned SunRail route from Orlando to DeBary will only be the beginning, U.S. Rep. John Mica said. The network of tracks could expand from the downtown Orlando area up to the northwest, reaching cities like Apopka, Mica said.
“It’s the beginning of a new era for transportation in our region,” Mica said.
“The main thing is looking at the future and how it connects together. People will use it if it’s convenient.”
Future phases of the project are set to connect SunRail to local airports and form bus connections near the stations for residents who live farther east or west of the tracks, Mica said.