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Transportation Nation

Orlando MagLev Plan Gets Tentative Approval

Monday, December 17, 2012

Magnetic levitation concept drawing (Image courtesy of American Maglev Technology Inc.)

A private company aiming to build a 40-mile long, $800 million dollar magnetic levitation rail line through Orlando has the green light to move forward with its plan.

American Maglev Technology Inc. says the monorail would be a first for the U.S.

The transportation planning agency Metroplan Orlando gave its conditional approval to phase one of the plan last week -- a 15-mile elevated line connecting Orlando International Airport  and the Orange County Convention Center.

The first phase would cost $315 million. MetroPlan's approval clears the way for the Florida Department of Transportation to solicit bids for use of the public right of way along the proposed route.

Tony Morris of American Maglev Technology Inc (AMT) says no public money would be needed to fund the project. According to AMT presentation materials, the company's system would cost $20 million per mile to build, compared to $70 million for other maglev systems.

MetroPlan wants a technical assessment to ensure the technology is safe, and it wants a request for proposals issued to see if there are competing plans before proceeding further.

MetroPlan executive director Harry Barley says the Florida Department of Transportation will carry out the technical assessment.

"This is a new technology, there is a test track and the [AMT] team has already gone through a great deal of testing on their own," says Barley. "But we feel there needs to be some additional work to review what they've done and perhaps build upon that before we're really confident the technology is appropriate."

Lease agreements also need to be negotiated to acquire public right of ways for the project.

Barley says those details will have to be worked out amongst the various agencies, including the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, the Orange County Expressway Authority, Orange County and the City of Orlando.

"The step that was taken with all those people present and voting to move ahead, I think reflects the collaborative nature on which this project can move forward."

AMT chief executive Tony Morris began working on a magnetic levitation rail system in Volusia County in the 1990s-- but that project didn't progress beyond the test phase.

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Transportation Nation

It's Toll Roads vs. Surface Streets in Race to the Orlando Airport

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

At the starting line, outside Orlando City Hall

Thursday morning, 9am: two law-abiding drivers, two routes to the airport, one winner.

WMFE reporter Matthew Peddie and news director Mark Simpson wanted to figure out the fastest route the airport from downtown Orlando. In a thoroughly unscientific experiment, they put two kinds of roads to the test. The toll road to the airport tacks on distance but promises a speedier ride. Surface roads are free and more direct -- but are studded with traffic lights.

Whose route was victorious?  Listen to the radio story, below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Central Florida looks South for Ideas on How to Integrate Transit

Monday, July 30, 2012

Orlando International Airport people mover (photo by Matthew Peddie)

(Orlando -- WMFE) Central Florida faces a transit planning challenge in the next few years with the arrival of publicly funded SunRail commuter rail in 2014, and private companies also  lining up rail plans.

Recently Orlando city officials toured the new Miami Intermodal Center, a ground transportation hub linking rail, buses and rental cars to Miami international airport.

Orlando Transportation Policy Advisor Christine Kefauver says after looking at MIC, she thinks Central Florida is heading in the right direction.

“Our intermodal center is further down the road, but I don’t see that there’s anything above and beyond to say that we’ve not planned appropriately," says Kefauver, adding "it’s nice to see this kind of stuff in use.”

Orlando International Airport is making plans for an intermodal station at the site of its yet-to-be-built South terminal. Potential rail connections include SunRail and All Aboard Florida, a privately run central Florida to Miami service which Florida East Coast Industries wants to have operational by 2014.

Kefauver says All Aboard Florida has a good chance of success, based on what was learned from the failed attempt to bring high-speed rail to Central Florida.

“As we went through the conversation of Orlando to Tampa for high-speed rail, what we heard from a lot of folks was ‘I really want to get to Miami,’" she says.

Kefauver says rail will benefit Orlando residents and the 55 million tourists a year who visit the area."Tying all this in at the airport increases their ability to be able to use those other modes.”

The SunRail line does not include an airport stop, but MetroPlan Orlando, the  transportation planning agency for Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties, has begun talks on how to link the commuter rail with the airport.

Metroplan Orlando executive director Harry Barley says one option is to use a rail spur that now brings coal to OUC’s Stanton power plant. “That’s clearly the easiest and fastest to do, because of that spur being in place, and perhaps reframing this as an extension of the existing SunRail project.”

The rail spur branches off the SunRail line between the Sand Lake Road station and Meadow Woods station, and runs past the south of the airport.

Barley says some new rail would have to be laid to connect the freight line with the airport  and to double the track in some places.  He says a "back of the envelope" estimate put the cost of adapting the rail spur for a passenger train at around $104 million.

Meanwhile, Christine Kefauver says she's hopeful demand for SunRail will allow it to increase its frequency from every 30 minutes as currently planned, to every 15 minutes. When that happens she says there will be added impetus to connect the rail line to the airport.

 

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Transportation Nation

Will SunRail Change Central Florida's Driving Habits?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

SunRail will run right through the center of Florida Hospital's Health Village campus (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Listen to an audio version of this story here

Developers are building apartments along Florida’s new commuter rail line -- but if SunRail isn't reliable, both the idea of transit-oriented development -- not to mention SunRail -- could flop.

The SunRail tracks run straight through Florida Hospital’s campus on North Orange Ave. When the commuter train starts in 2014 it will be an important part of the hospital’s plans for a health village, which will include a mix of apartments, shops and businesses clustered around the yet-to-be built rail station.

Developer Craig Ustler says the project will transform the surrounding neighborhood.

“It would look like a lot of people walking, a pedestrian friendly environment, and maybe an evolution to a place where the car doesn’t win all the time.”

"It’s not a perfect set up yet," says Craig Ustler, standing at the site of the future Florida Hospital SunRail platform "they’ve got to build an administrative building and some retail to tie it all together, but a lot of pieces in place already to make a quality environment built around the transit.”

Ustler is counting on residents for a 250 apartment, $38 million complex he’s building a few blocks from the hospital.

The idea behind transit-oriented development (TOD) is to create pedestrian- friendly environments with access to transportation alternatives to the car. Local officials, like Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, are excited about its potential.

“Transit-oriented development is popping up all around these stations, giving us new places to work, live and play," said Dyer when SunRail got the final go-ahead a year ago.

"New companies moving in, new jobs being created. People saving money because they don’t have to use their car. People saving time because they’re not stuck on I-4.”

With ten thousand hospital employees and about three thousand  students at the College of Health Sciences, all of them potential rail passengers, shoppers or tenants, Florida Hospital is ripe for TOD.

To make it work, though, the rail has to run often and on time. And right now SunRail won’t run on weekends.

Gregg Logan, managing director of the Orlando real estate advisory services firm RCLCO, says that could be a problem.

“If it’s not convenient, then people won’t use it and that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘see, we shouldn’t have funded it because people aren’t using it,'" says Logan.

"Well, people will use it if it’s convenient.”

SunRail says it will extend the service if there’s demand.

TOD is still untested in Central Florida, and that’s made it challenging for developers to get financing for big projects around rail. Compared to cities with well-established mass transit system like New York, Central Florida’s urban environment is relatively young, with most of the big growth springing up in the last 50 years. But Gregg Logan says that could be an advantage.

“I guess the good news is we can go to some of these other places and look at what worked," he says, "and borrow some of their best ideas.”

RCLCO's Gregg Logan points to a map of the SunRail commuter train route (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Logan says Central Florida should take inspiration from Portland’s street car and the Washington DC Metro, where TOD has driven up the value of land around rail stations. While Florida Hospital has big plans for development, some of the other stops along the rail line aren’t as far advanced.

One landowner trying to attract business for a potential development is Tupperware. Spokesperson Thomas Roehlk says the company has 100 acres for mixed use set aside at its headquarters near the Osceola Parkway station.

“We haven’t had the interest yet from businesses, partially as a consequence of the fact that we are in phase two, so we’re four years out from having a station, and secondly just because of the slow uptick to the economy," He says.

However, Roehlk believes Tupperware’s plan will succeed in the long run because of the location’s proximity to another major transport hub -- Orlando International Airport.

Meanwhile, developer Craig Ustler says once the train starts running past his building at Florida Hospital, Orlando residents will begin to see the potential for a well-planned urban environment.

“I think the vast majority of people have woken up to the fact that living 30 miles away from where they work, and driving, and the price of gas and all that is probably not the most efficient thing in the world," says Ustler.

"We still need some time to work through exactly how to fix that and how to give people the tools to make a move.”

Ustler's apartment complex breaks ground next month.

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Orlando International Airport Could Link with Private Intercity Rail

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Orlando International Airport (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Orlando International Airport officials are working out a deal over a private rail company's proposed commercial rail service to Miami.

The arrival of the intercity rail service -- called "All Aboard Florida" -- could mean the airport has to speed up plans to build a new train station.

A rail connection has been part of the airport's master plan for three decades, but with high-speed rail scrapped last year and no firm plans for a direct link to the SunRail commuter train, a private company may be the first to roll to the airport.

Florida East Coast Industries plans to create a passenger rail service from Miami to Orlando (a distance of about 240 miles) and it wants to link up with the airport by 2015.

Orlando International Airport executive director Phil Brown says they hope to have details worked out over the next two months.

“We have to come to a pretty rapid agreement on what it’s going to look like," he says, "where it’s going to come in, and who is going to be responsible for what parts of it."

Brown says the train station would be built at the site of the airport’s proposed South Terminal, and accommodate up to four rail systems -- including SunRail as well as All Aboard Florida.

"It's the same place where we envisioned a station for high speed rail," he said. "What's a little bit different is high-speed rail was coming from Tampa, this is coming from Miami, so there's a different access point."

The cost of the intermodal station and a new parking garage for rental cars has been pegged at $470 million.

To accommodate All Aboard Florida service, the airport would also have to fast-track construction of a people mover between the station and the North Terminal.

Whether the new South Terminal gets built or not depends on passenger numbers. Currently about 35 million people fly through the Orlando airport a year, and with some modifications the North terminal could take up to 45 million. International passengers numbers are growing, with an 8 per cent increase in April, but they only account for 10 per cent of the airport's customers.

Brown says an agreement would also have to be reached between the airport and airlines about who would shoulder which part of the cost of the proposed new passenger terminal.

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Transportation Nation

Private Rail Company Says Orlando to Miami Service Possible in Two Years

Friday, May 18, 2012

Amtrak's Orlando station (photo by Matthew Peddie)

(Orlando, FLA -- WMFE) The company that wants to begin a privately funded passenger rail service from Orlando to Miami says it expects to get millions of drivers out of their cars and riding the rails once it starts rolling.

Florida East Coast Industries executives are meeting with local authorities as they decide on the exact route of the service.

If the rail service starts as planned in 2014, it's expected to improve connections to regional transportation hubs in Central Florida.

FECI traces its roots back to Henry Flagler, one of the wealthy industrialists who created a network of railways and hotels throughout the state from the late 1800s.

The company already owns 200 miles of track needed for the route- it says it will cost a billion dollars to build the final 40 miles between Cocoa and Orlando, and modify the existing freight track to accommodate the new service, called All Aboard Florida.

Proposed route for a new intercity passenger rail service (Image courtesy of All Aboard Florida)

Spokesperson Christine Barney says there’s an appetite for intercity rail in Florida, but the failed high-speed rail project between Tampa and Orlando shows tax payers don't want to bear the risk.

This service isn't billed as high speed rail, but it would hit speeds of 100 miles per hour and more, allowing it to make the trip from Orlando to Miami in about 3 hours.

Barney says the company is confident it will get the funding it needs to start in 2 years time.

“We’re already looking at selecting the operators, picking the actual trains, you know, we’re moving very quickly," she says.

"We understand that if the project is going to move forward things have to happen quickly, but we think that’s a reasonable expectation.”

Barney says for the service to be a success, it has to run frequently.

"If you think about the successful rail corridors like in the North East, you can go from New York to Washington, and if you get to the station at 10.15, you've missed your 10, but there's another train at 11," says Barney.

She says the aim is to have between 12 and 14 trains running every day.

That could mean up to 3 million fewer cars on the road, but Barney admits it may be a challenge getting drivers to change their habits.

“It is going to be a learned behavior because people haven’t had this option before. But our initial studies indicate that there are enough people that don’t like the delays that occur, the traffic that occurs, the cost, wear and tear on cars, gas, and the difficulties of driving.”

The train will stop in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and Barney says there could also be the potential to link up to airports and seaports, including Port Canaveral and Orlando International Airport.

Stan Thornton, project Liaison Manager for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, says the airport is ready to connect to rail- whether it's the SunRail commuter train set to start rolling in 2014, light rail, or an intercity service.

"We've always had rail in our master planning," says Thornton.

"When high speed rail was getting serious we went ahead and laid out how some of the different types of rail would get into here."

Thornton says the airport is talking to Florida East Coast Industries about their plans.

He says the proposed rail service could increase passenger traffic by giving people better connections to the airport.

“People have a tendency of how far they’ll drive before they’ll fly. We have people who come down from Jacksonville, we know that from our garage traffic, so it’s what we call a catchment area and we think that could increase by up to 50 per cent.”

A private company could soon be competing with Amtrak for these passengers (photo by Matthew Peddie)

All Aboard Florida is not the only passenger rail service that could be rolling on the east coast. Amtrak, which already has an inland service running from Jacksonville to Miami twice a day in both directions,  is also exploring another service along on the same stretch of track. Amtrak has a ridership study underway, but no date on when that will be finished.

Florida East Coast Industries says Amtrak and All Aboard could both use the track without any conflict.

The company says it will have a better idea of the final route of the train and the timeline for completion once ridership, engineering and environmental studies are finished in the next few months.

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