Disney World Open to On-Site SunRail Station

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After canceling plans for an on-property Brightline high-speed rail station two years in the past, Walt Disney World is now open to a SunRail practice station on-site at Disney Springs. This put up shares particulars concerning the improvement and what’s modified, how a lot it’ll price, plus commentary together with why this was by no means supposed to be the substitute for Disney’s Magical Express.

Walt Disney World shared in an announcement to Orlando Business Journal that they’d be open to debate a SunRail station at Disney Springs. The shared Sunshine Corridor between Miami-based Brightline and the Central Florida commuter rail system would come with stops at Orlando International Airport, Orange County Convention Center and South International Drive.

“We have long been open to discussions around the proposed SunRail expansion to Disney Springs and have been engaged with state and community leaders on the topic,” a Walt Disney World spokesperson wrote in an announcement. “This is not to be confused with the agreement we previously had for a Brightline station that Brightline decided not to pursue.”

Walt Disney World has been absent from Sunshine Corridor discussions for the previous two years, together with in the course of the latest dispute between Governor DeSantis and Disney over management of the previous Reedy Creek Improvement District and present Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

Despite this, Brightline has remained thinking about a station at Disney. The Sunshine Corridor research unveiled Thursday depicts riders and prices related to a cease at Disney Springs, based on the Orlando Sentinel.

“In the past, Disney has expressed to the [Florida’s Department of Transportation’s Central Florida district] that they are very interested in expanding SunRail to Disney,” mentioned John Tyler, secretary of the division. “We have continued to focus on getting a connection to that point. It makes sense from a transportation standpoint and we have no reason to believe we shouldn’t be pursuing that.”

The Florida Department of Transportation launched that assertion as a part of a presentation in late April 2024 that included price and ridership estimates on the hall. Expanding SunRail to Orlando’s airport and the area’s tourism hall would enhance ridership at the least sixfold within the first yr of operation however come at an eye-popping price of at the least $4 billion. The presentation included the potential for a Disney Springs station, which may price $173 million to $247 million to construct.

Tyler mentioned the division’s yearlong research discovered that linking SunRail to airport and tourism stops would enhance ridership from the present 1 million yearly to six million yearly–and that’s more likely to be an underestimate. He additionally pointed to an estimate that the hyperlink would attain an estimated 9.4 million riders by 2040, and indicated the research outcomes have been extraordinarily optimistic.

The drawback shall be funding. Those ~$4 billion in prices must come from the taxpayers, with a mix of native, state and federal funding, in addition to vital non-public contributions. That’s the largest roadblock for the Sunshine Corridor–Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings may be very bullish on the undertaking and helps a gross sales tax hike to fund the undertaking, however different mayors and metropolis commissioners on SunRail’s board are extra combined.

Without a devoted supply of funding, it’ll be tough to get the Sunshine Corridor finished. The identical was additionally true of Brightline to start with, and the undertaking was considered as inconceivable after loads of failed rail initiatives previously couple of a long time. Not solely is Brightline now operational, however the group is already engaged on one other line from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. I would’ve wager in opposition to this again in ~2019, however not anymore.

For those that are unfamiliar with this complete saga, the Sunshine Corridor and the Brightline and Sunrail plans, we’ll shortly deliver you up to the mark. Several years in the past, Brightline signed signed a letter of intent with Walt Disney World. Brightline had secured rights to situation $1.75 billion in tax-free bonds, and the 170-mile Central Florida hall had 35 miles of latest practice right-of-way constructed alongside the Beachline Expressway. It was an formidable plan, however there have been numerous formidable practice plans for Central Florida that haven’t gone anyplace.

Things bought extra actual in November 2020, when Walt Disney World revealed that the corporate would assist considerably develop its transportation community by including a Brightline practice station at Disney Springs. The events issued a joint announcement revealing that Brightline and Disney formalized plans and entered into an settlement on station development.

However, that settlement was scrapped again in June 2022, when Walt Disney World revealed that the corporate’s plans for an on-property station to connect with the multibillion-dollar Brightline undertaking aren’t any extra. This occurred after the proposed route for Brightline modified from alongside State Road 417 to go nearer to International Drive, with the brand new route often called the Sunshine Corridor.

“As many people who are involved in this project are aware, the new route configuration does not support a Disney Springs station and as a result, we don’t anticipate being part of this project,” mentioned Walt Disney World spokesperson Avery Maehrer on the time. That wasn’t the top of it, although.

Shortly thereafter, Brightline launched an announcement that though the unique plan referred to as for a single station at Disney Springs, a broad vary of stakeholders got here up with an alternate resolution–often called the Sunshine Corridor–that might service extra of the vacationer hall.

Representatives of I-Drive companies, Universal Orlando, Orange County Convention Center and even the City of Orlando all pushed for the Sunshine Corridor route with a view to service many extra theme parks, accommodations, and associated companies in want of rail transportation to the airport. Universal even pledged land and financial help to make the Sunshine Corridor a actuality.

The Sunshine Corridor would function two new stations and integrates Brightline’s intercity service with SunRail. In addition to the Orlando International Airport, one new station could be positioned close to Universal’s Epic Universe and Orange County Convention Center. Brightline revealed that there is also an alternate station positioned close to the unique Disney Springs website, albeit not on land owned by Disney as a part of the Sunshine Corridor plan.

Basically, it turned a traditional case of Walt Disney World vs. Universal Orlando, with the latter mounting an effort to vary Brightline’s most popular route and garnering help from different companies and the town itself. Universal additionally pledged cash and land for the undertaking, which actually didn’t damage their trigger.

Universal was profitable, however in so doing, the corporate dramatically delayed the undertaking–as a result of it as soon as extra needed to undergo layers of approval–and brought about Walt Disney World to again out. It was at all times going to be Universal or Disney profitable, so it was basically a foregone conclusion that Disney would take its ball and go dwelling if its most popular route didn’t win out.

Turning to commentary, nothing that’s occurred previous to 2024 has been significantly stunning. It is at the least just a little stunning that Walt Disney World is reentering the foray, and appears amenable to creating an on-site SunRail station occur.

The very first thing that at all times comes up with dialogue of Brightline is Disney’s Magical Express. So we’ll begin with the reminder that this rail was by no means billed as a substitute for DME. Some followers proceed to assert that Brightline is the “reason” Disney’s Magical Express ended, however that’s demonstrably false.

If the practice have been changing the bus, it stands to purpose that Disney’s Magical Express wouldn’t have ended 5+ years earlier than the proposed/cancelled/proposed once more station at Walt Disney World truly went into service. There have been additionally a variety of sensible explanation why Brightline was by no means supposed as a DME substitute, from practice frequency to transfers from Disney Springs to accommodations.

The profit to companies within the vacationer hall is connecting Orlando to Florida’s Gold Coast. Guests from South Florida are a rising demographic for Disney, and rail would facilitate simpler weekend getaways for them. It would even be helpful for high-spending convention-goers to journey inside the state. Those are the 2 large advantages of this from the attitude of the theme parks. It was by no means about changing an airport shuttle bus. There have been–and are–higher methods to perform that.

As inefficient as it’s, Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine is in all probability simpler and sooner than this rail shall be for getting from MCO to a selected resort at Walt Disney World. With that mentioned, if the Disney Springs cease have been a correct practice station full with baggage lockers, I may see taking the practice in and hitting the bottom working with arrival day at Disney Springs–then heading to our resort. Especially if we arrived earlier than our room was prepared.

As for Walt Disney World rethinking its resolution about an on-site station, I feel there are a few doable explanations for this. The first is that Walt Disney World had hoped that backing out of the undertaking in 2022 would’ve killed it, or at the least made it much less more likely to succeed.

That was their play on the time. It was an unsurprising one as a result of Walt Disney World has at all times acted in its pursuits to protect the “Disney Bubble” and never make it simpler for vacationers to bounce freely between on-site and off-site sights.

It’s doable that now that Disney sees the Sunshine Corridor persevering with ahead, they’d slightly be a part of it than omitted fully. That’s one doable clarification, however the line continues to be removed from a positive factor. Walt Disney World’s involvement could be considered as a hedge, nevertheless it additionally could be considered as rising the chance of success for the road.

The key distinction between mid-2022 and 2024 is top-level management, with Bob Iger changing Bob Chapek as CEO. (WDW President Jeff Vahle and Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro have been in place then and now.) This looks like a call that might be made on the CEO degree, so it’s doable that Iger is in favor of this and Chapek was not. The latter may positively be accused of being shortsighted, and I’d argue that’s what the 2022 resolution was.

Another chance is that the corporate’s calculus has modified. Walt Disney World has already acknowledged that the Disney Bubble has been punctured due to the rise of rideshare coupled with extra rental vehicles and plentiful transportation round Central Florida.

That’s exactly why they ended Disney’s Magical Express. But that call was made earlier than the one to again out of the Disney Springs station in 2022. They already knew it was going to be tougher to keep up the captive on-site viewers going ahead.

A remaining chance is that, with Epic Universe opening in 2025, Walt Disney World now sees the free circulate of visitors as a two-way road. No longer will they be “losing” visitors for a day or two at Universal by making it simpler to enterprise off-site. Going ahead, extra visitors will even keep on-site at Universal Orlando and need to make day journeys to Disney. Think of this as a spin on the “rising tide lifts all ships” line of considering.

My greatest guess is that it’s some mixture of the above. Having an built-in station on-site at Disney Springs is the sensible transfer, and one which performs the lengthy recreation. It acknowledges that Mario and Harry Potter and dragons are going to attract extra vacationers to Central Florida, and people folks may additionally have an curiosity in Encanto, Indiana Jones, no matter is Beyond Big Thunder, and mice.

Disney taking part in ball is clearly the guest-friendly transfer, however I feel it’s one which’s additionally good for the long-term way forward for Walt Disney World. And whereas we don’t play this recreation usually, it’s what Walt would’ve wished (he cherished two issues: chili and trains). Here’s hoping that it truly occurs!

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YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you concentrate on Walt Disney World being “open” to having an on-property rail station? Optimistic that Disney will view this as a very good factor within the long-term and construct a station at Disney Springs? Do you agree or disagree with our evaluation? Any questions we will help you reply? Hearing your suggestions—even if you disagree with us—is each attention-grabbing to us and useful to different readers, so please share your ideas under within the feedback!

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