Proposed SunRail link would connect Universal and I-Drive district to Orlando International Airport

A proposed extension of Central Florida's commuter rail service, SunRail, that would ultimately link the Orange County Convention Center, the International Drive tourism district, and the Orlando International Airport to SunRail's existing line is gaining momentum.  

The existing SunRail line runs north and south, from DeBary in Volusia County to Poinciana in Osceola County. The proposed extension would run east and west, connecting to a transfer station at the existing SunRail line somewhere in the vicinity of where S. Orange Ave. intersects with W. Taft Vineland Rd. and Tradeport Dr.    

The east end of the newly proposed line would terminate at the airport's Intermodal Facility which also serves as a station for Brightline, Florida's inter-city higher-speed rail service that will connect Miami to Orlando in 2023.  The west end will initially terminate at the convention center, but plans call for a further extension to a future South I-Drive station.

"We live in Japan and in Japan we travel by train. It’s super convenient," said Eric Lawson.

Lawson and his family are on vacation in Orlando. They are used to Japan’s rail infrastructure that connects the entire county. Although, while staying near I-Drive his family will have to catch an expensive ride-share back to the airport.

"We haven’t been to America in a few years, of course, and I had forgotten about the lack of infrastructure here," said Lawson. "It’s a bit more difficult to get around than it is in a lot of other countries. You’re limited to cars and that’s expensive."

A coalition of I-Drive businesses and Universal Orlando Resort on Thursday announced intentions to create a special taxing district to help advance the project. The Shingle Creek Transit Utility Community Development District would be similar to the ones Florida developers have used to create large planned communities. These districts impose taxes or fees on property owners who live within the district for the purpose of creating infrastructure such as roads, water, and sewer facilities. However, in this case, Universal Orlando would be the only property owner financing the district.

"We are one step closer to creating a multi-directional commuter rail system that benefits our entire region," said John Sprouls, Executive Vice President of Universal Parks & Resorts in a news release. "The new SunRail corridor and convention center station will make it easier for residents to get to work, the airport, and to the places they love. And it will enable business growth within the International Drive area and across the region." 

Officials said the new district will "plan, finance, construct, operate, own and maintain a new Orange County Convention Center SunRail station," which they believe will have a profound impact on not only local residents but also the estimated 100,000 workers in the I-Drive area.  Visitors will benefit too, they said, with direct connections to one of the nation's busiest airports and to Brightline. 

"We’ve known for years that connectivity between the airport and International Drive area will be essential to our entire region’s future," said Maria Triscari, President of the International Drive Chamber of Commerce. "This new station is great news for our entire community." 

The International Drive Chamber of Commerce sponsors Orlando’s Right Rail, which is made of up businesses and individuals who advocate for a regional mass transit plan that would include this new convention center-airport line, often referred to as the Sunshine Corridor Program. 

A proposed extension of SunRail would connect the Orange County Convention Center and International Drive tourism district to the Orlando International Airport. [Orlando's Right Rail]

Planners believe the roughly 10-mile Sunshine Corridor will help more than double SunRail’s annual ridership and revenue once completed. 

"The Sunshine Corridor is critical to moving our workforce. Creating a transportation network that connects our workers to their jobs, our residents to our airport, and allows our visitors to have options when they travel is essential," said City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Chairman of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission. 

"It’s another way to get people off the roads and get them to their destinations," said Mayor Buddy Dyer.

In Thursday's announcement, Universal Orlando pledged 13 acres of land to the new district, "at no cost to taxpayers," which will be used for the convention center station and for "a substantial section of rail corridor."  Universal also said that, based upon its investment in Epic Universe, a new park set to open sometime in 2025, it will support the district’s financing and operation to include:

  • Up to $125 million in private activity bonds to be used to fund the rail corridor and convention center station
  • $2 million annually to operate the convention center station at "no cost to Orange County taxpayers"
  • $13 million in annual ticket sales for the Sunshine Corridor, which is guaranteed by the district and partners in Orlando's Right Rail coalition