ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A multi-billion project to bring high-speed passenger rail service to Central Florida is about to break ground at the Orlando International Airport.
Virgin Trains, formally known as Brightline, is on track to complete the second phase of its high speed rail system connecting West Palm Beach to Orlando by 2022.
Adrian Share, executive vice president of rail infrastructure with Virgin Trains USA, presented a project update to the Central Florida Expressway Authority board last week.
"We just initiated construction in May, so just last month, and (we're) very excited to get that project going," Share said.
The second phase of the project is a 167-mile extension. It uses existing rail along the east coast, then builds 35 miles of track between Cocoa running along State Road 528 to the new station at OIA.
Share said the end goal is to connect Orlando to Tampa, calling it phase three of the project.
During his presentation, Share said Virgin Trains is considering a couple alignments for phase three.
The first alignment runs north of the airport along SR 528 past the Orange County Convention Center, and then connects to Interstate 4. Share said this plan would cost the company up to $600 million in additional infrastructure costs.
"It does not pencil out for us if we go north," Share said.
Instead, Share said the preferred route is to go south of the airport, connect at the SunRail Meadow Woods station, then follow the State Riad 417 corridor with a stop in the Disney area to I-4.
"We are a private business looking to build these connections as smartly and affordably as we can," Share said.
But Central Florida transportation officials are worried the preferred route is a missed opportunity to serve the tourism district.
CFX Chairman Jay Madara reacted to the preferred alignment.
"It just feels like a big miss not being able to serve the convention center and the I-Drive corridor. That feels like that would be the maximum impact in terms of ridership to the community," Madara said.
Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey said she's heard from hoteliers who brought up concerns about where the tourism station would be located along the preferred route.
"I think there's some logistical challenges in that proposition that I would encourage you to take a look at and I would encourage you to take a look at the location of that station that's intended to serve the tourism area and make sure it doesn't favor one property over another," VanderLey said.
The ceremonial groundbreaking for phase two of the high speed rail is scheduled for Monday, June 24 at 11 a.m. at Orlando International Airport.