My Train of Thought: Let’s Derail SunRail

"A result of SunRail would be more cars on more pavement, contributing to global warming and further preventing rainwater from seeping into the aquifer."


 Mike Boslet, Editor in Chief
 Mike Boslet

In keeping with this issue’s “green” theme, I’d like to address a proposed project that politicians and special interests have dressed up as environmentally responsible but actually would do more harm than good to our quality of life. 

To hear some elected leaders tell it, the proposed SunRail commuter train, connecting DeLand with downtown Orlando and eventually continuing to Poinciana in Osceola County, would reduce traffic on I-4. Fewer cars on the road means less carbon emissions, therefore commuter rail is “green.” Who could oppose a project that would curb greenhouse gas emissions?

You could, if you knew the truth about SunRail. The Federal Transit Authority found “no justification” that the rail system would “effectively serve I-4 travel markets.” A Florida Department of Transportation report predicted SunRail would average 7,400 “boardings” on a weekday by 2030. So, 18 years after its planned start, SunRail would transport about 3,700 commuters back and forth—per day. In other words, SunRail won’t make a dent in relieving traffic.   

On the contrary, its presence would encourage sprawl, yield redundant commercial enterprises and add to our traffic woes. If they build it, development would come—to the far reaches of the rail line. Builders would advertise rail commuting as convenient and classy. The exurbs would become fashionably remote again.

More green space would be paved over to accommodate train stations and commercial buildings for the usual tenants—franchise food and convenience-service operators. That would only bolster Central Florida’s reputation as one continuous strip mall. A result of SunRail would be more cars on more pavement, contributing to global warming and further preventing rainwater from seeping into the aquifer.

Think I’m making all of this up? Don’t listen to me—listen to SunRail booster Buddy Dyer. While trumpeting SunRail in his recent State of the City address, Orlando’s mayor said the transit system would “generate more than 250,000 jobs and almost $9 billion over the next quarter-century.”

That sounds great, in a Chamber of Commerce sense, but more jobs bring more cars, more children to our woefully underfunded school systems, more demand on electrical and water utilities, more waste and, well, more pollution.    

SunRail would be a taxpayer-financed boondoggle, costing $1.25 billion to get up and running and billions more in debt service and overruns. Like Tri-Rail in South Florida, SunRail would end up being heavily subsidized by all of us to serve a speck of the population.

SunRail would be especially harmful to Winter Park’s charming neighborhoods. SunRail trains would run during the daytime while CSX freight trains would take the night shift, blocking the city’s 13 railroad crossings and disrupting the quiet at all hours. Winter Park’s future tranquility stands to be damaged by such powerful interests as CSX and the project-design consultants pushing this rail project.  

 Building a commuter rail system for the Orlando area is as environmentally responsible as driving alone in an Escalade Hybrid. No firm case has been made for SunRail. The political argument for the system has gone from calling it a feel-good solution for our environment to labeling it as a desperately needed stimulus for our economy.

SunRail is neither. And it should be derailed before another tree is wasted on printing yet another finding that disproves heavy commuter rail as a cure for traffic problems and pollution.   

Categories: Column