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Deal Inked for Disney High-Speed Rail

Monday, December 21, 2020

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Announced at the end of November, officials from rail company Brightline and Walt Disney World Resort reported that they’ve inked a deal for the construction of a train station at Disney Springs, a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex in Orlando, Florida.

The Brightline station is intended to provide a convenient travel option between Walt Disney World Resort and Brightline stations at Orlando International Airport, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and planned stations in Aventura, Boca Raton and Port Miami.

South Florida Rail

Dating back to 2008, Wes Edens, spokesperson for train parent entity Fortress Investment Group, noted that when he and others had first started establishing the idea of bringing European-style train service to the U.S., specifically South Florida, the endeavor was faced with extreme doubt. Six years later, however, the first round of funding was secured. The South Florida line opened in 2017. Although, the Orlando line has come with various legal opposition for five years.

Previously, there had been plans for a train station at the Orlando International Airport around 15 or 20 years ago, plans that were approved before 2010, but the project was later canceled by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, Jeff Fuqua, former chair of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, told Florida Politics.

Eventually, it was decided by Central Florida leaders that Virgin Trains USA would lead the project’s construction. Carried out as a private endeavor, the double-track rail plans to connect Orlando with South Florida, but also plans to incorporate the company’s existing rail service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach with Orlando.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the rail route from the Orlando Airport to Cocoa will help bridge the connection between Cocoa and Miami, with the 235-mile ride from Miami to Orlando taking around three hours. As a result of the project, which can run up to 125 mph when the Orlando International Airport stop is added, 3 million cars are estimated to be removed from Florida roadways between those two points.

The Florida line will have a total of 10, seven-car trains running between Miami and Orlando, each carrying 356 passengers.

During construction, 225 million pounds of American steel, along with 2 million spikes and bolts will be used, all of which is being moved by $2.5 billion in tax-exempt bonds. Around the time of the project’s groundbreaking ceremony in June 2019, it was noted that work had already began on clearing space at the Orlando Airport for a 200,000-square-foot maintenance building.

Virgin Trains, formerly known as Brightline, noted that it plans on investing $4 billion in the state projects.

In 2018, Florida DOT gave the rail company permission to negotiate and execute leases along the proposed system's rights of way property, which is owned by the FDOT and the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

By February of this year, Brightline began engineering and design work for a proposed station in Lakeland, Florida, which is about halfway between Tampa and Orlando.

In October, rail officials working on the $2.7 billion, 170-mile Brightline high-speed rail extension expected to start construction of a train tunnel in two weeks, thanks to the use of Italian company Petrucco’s box-jacking system.

Previously, general contractor Granite Construction (Watsonville, California) estimated that using conventional methods to construct the tunnel would have detoured motorists for approximately 10 months.

Although the push began at the beginning of the month, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the first half of the box was already moved into place and planned to fuse the second half using additional concrete. According to Brightline spokesperson Katie Mitzner, Granite's $557 million portion of the project is a 37-mile-long section in Zone 3 that runs from Cocoa to the Orlando International Airport.

The project is on track to reach completion by 2022.

Disney Rail

While the agreement is conditioned upon Brightline’s satisfaction of certain obligations including obtaining all necessary government approvals, the company is developing plans for a new Disney Springs station, which would be in close proximity to Walt Disney World Resort’s four theme parks, two water parks and more than 25 hotels. 

“We’re excited to work with Brightline as they pursue the potential development of a train station at Walt Disney World Resort, a project that would support our local economy and offer a bold, forward-looking transportation solution for our community and guests,” said Jeff Vahle, President of Walt Disney World Resort.

Early design concepts of the station include lobby on the ground level, passenger facilities and an upper level train platform.

“Brightline will offer a car-free connection to the millions of visitors from around the state and the world who plan to make Walt Disney World Resort part of their vacation plans,” said Patrick Goddard, President of Brightline. “Our mission has always been to connect our guests to the people and places that matter, and Walt Disney World Resort is a tremendous example of this.”

Should the plans successfully press forward, Brightline reports that construction of the Central Florida expansion could mean $2.4 billion of economic impact for the area and jobs for more than 16,000 construction workers.


Tagged categories: Department of Transportation (DOT); NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rail; Railcars; Transportation

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