Central Florida residents will have a chance to grab a free ride on the yellow and orange-striped SunRail trains during tentative select dates next month – a move meant to spike interest in the new rail system.
Passengers can hop aboard SunRail and travel to select stops on April 15-18 and 21-25, said Jessica Keane, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Transportation.
SunRail has yet to release a train schedule and list of available stations for the dates.
“The benefit is that people can actually see the great amenities that it has, especially those tables, free Wi-Fi and how relaxing a ride can be in a commute to work,” Keane said.
“This gives us an opportunity for people to see it first-hand and now experience it first-hand and see if it’s something that they could do.”
SunRail pass sales continue to grow as the train’s launch celebration approaches on April 30, when a train will visit each stop to blow its whistle. More than 9,000 SunCards have already been purchased and an additional 3,000 are currently pending.
Residents should not use their digital SunCards for the free rides, Keane said, as the internal clock for the pass will start to run and waste purchased time.
Excitement and anticipation grew for Winter Park residents as their station celebrated its grand opening on March 3, marking the first of the 12 stops to open its doors.
A white, Craftsman-style train station quickly filled with locals looking to sneak a peek at the finished product.
“This represents the kickoff of so many good things for our region,” Mayor Ken Bradley said.
“This is something that will bring jobs to our community and something that allows our own citizens to seek jobs in other parts of our region.”
Locals can get another sneak peek of the Winter Park Station during the Sidewalk Art Festival this weekend, March 21-23, as it opens its doors for tours.
Train usage continues to grow in parts of Orange County. The number of passengers using the Amtrak rail service in the Orlando Metropolitan area jumped by 27.69 percent between the fiscal years 2006/2007 and 2010/2011, according to MetroPlan Orlando.
Riders boarding the train from the Winter Park Amtrak station saw a jump of 31.5 percent in that span of time.
Giving residents who are new to public transportation some free exposure to SunRail makes sense, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke said.
“People can see how it works for them,” he said. “It’s hard to tell unless you try it.”
“If I worked downtown and didn’t need a car, I’d certainly try it.”
The DeBary station and Orlando’s Sand Lake Road stop will open their doors by end of this month, with the remaining nine stations set to open during the first two weeks of April.
SunRail will officially start commuting passengers on May 1, following the whistle stop tour the day before.