ORLANDO, Fla. – Brightline will no longer have a station at Disney Springs as part of its 320-mile higher-speed passenger train service stretching from Miami to Orlando to Tampa Bay, railway officials said in a statement on Tuesday.
The company, which initially planned to include a single station at Disney Springs to coincide with the expansion, is now considering the “Sunshine Corridor which contemplates two new stations and integrates Brightline’s intercity service with SunRail, through an east-west expansion.”
The initial proposed route, which cost $1 billion less, according to Brightline, ran down State Road 417, avoiding the Orlando tourist district but stopping at Disney Springs and continuing along Interstate 4 toward Tampa.
But after strong support from Central Florida leaders and Universal Orlando, which has offered to donate more than a dozen acres for a train station, Brightline said a solution is to run right through International Drive along SR-528, stopping at the Orange County Convention Center and again near Disney Springs, but not on Disney property.
“In addition to the airport, one new station will be located at the Orange County Convention Center, and an alternative station will be placed near the original Disney Springs site, albeit not on land owned by Disney. Taken together, the three integrated stations provide access to the largest economic and employment centers in Central Florida and offer the best opportunity for the success of Brightline and SunRail,” Ben Porritt, Brightline SVP of corporate affairs, said in a statement.
Brightline Director of Public Affairs Katie Mitzner said the stops will “provide access to the larges economic and employment centers in central Florida and offer the best opportunity for the success of Brightline and SunRail.”
“Late last year, we were asked by several community leaders to explore alternative alignments for our planned expansion from OIA to Tampa,” Mitzner said. “The original plan called for a single station at Disney Springs. Along with a broad range of stakeholders, we have identified a solution now known as the Sunshine Corridor, which contemplates two new stations and integrates Brightline’s intercity service with SunRail through an east-west expansion. In addition to the airport, one new station will be located at the Orange County Convention Center, and an alternative station will be placed near the original Disney Springs site, albeit not on land owned by Disney.”
The $2.4 billion project will extend the company’s current rail line from West Palm Beach to Orlando. Currently, the line runs from Miami to West Palm Beach.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings called the move “exciting news.”
“Expansion of our theme parks, along with businesses located in our tourist corridor is exciting news for our region,” he said. “It signifies that many investors are interested in doing business in metropolitan Orlando. As our population grows, so will the need to move people around efficiently. This is important to both our workers and visitors in improving our transit system. Significant private sector investments are required to make the plans viable, and Brightline is that catalyst. I look forward to continuing the conversation about such public/private partnerships.”
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer agreed, saying he looks forward to working with “local partners.”
“Connecting our residents to jobs and expanding our region’s transit options is the driving vision for the Sunshine Corridor - an expansion of SunRail to the airport and to our region’s largest industry in hospitality,” Dyer said. “We are in the very early planning stages, including evaluating ridership and station locations. We look forward to continuing these conversations and working with all our local partners to advance this shared vision to increase transportation options throughout our region.”
Universal Orlando Spokesman Tom Shroder said the new route “benefits our entire community.”
“Our goal has always been to find a transportation solution that benefits our entire community, and the current plan to expand SunRail from the airport to the convention center is exactly that solution,” Shroder said. “We are exclusively focused on supporting and being part of this historic moment along with all our partners.”
But U.S. Congressman Darren Soto, who represents Osceola County, said the solution is not ideal for Disney nor visitors because to get onto Disney property, travelers will need to go from the train to a bus or car.
“I think (Disney is) expressing their frustrations with some of the past stuff that went on, particularly the state, (which) has been really heavy-handed against them,” Soto said. “With that being said, I view this as we need to do more negotiations. Disney is an amazing employer and has been involved in so many key milestones in the state’s history. So we’re hoping we’ll be able to work this out. The Brightline train will go down I-4, it will share the right-of-way with Sunrail, so having a stop right next to Disney property would be a huge win for our community. Having them participate would make it even better.”
News 6 emailed Disney for comment three times on Tuesday and received no response.
Back in May, Brightline celebrated a milestone in the Orlando to Tampa expansion project during which a train rolled into Orlando International Airport’s new Intermodal Terminal Facility as part of a test.
The Intermodal Terminal Facility will also connect to the new Terminal C in the airport, currently under construction and scheduled to open later this year, in addition to being a stopover to Tampa.