Have you been on board yet? Yes, I’m talking to YOU out there. With an average daily passenger count of around 3700, that leaves roughly 2.1 million [+-] of you that don’t ride SunRail. Yet. And, before June 23rd, I was one of you, but now I’ve crossed over and am happy to report what a great experience it was.
At the invite of a friend who happens to be a regular commuter (go you!), I did the deed last month and found it to be a very positive experience from my start in Altamonte Springs to the goal – Sand Lake Road Station – and back again. My journey started mid-morning at the easy-to-park AS station so I could board the 10:23. That’s where I met Ken, the very friendly and efficient SunRail passenger assistant who I thought was there just for me, until that school bus full of pre-schoolers – 28 adorable and high energy tykes – showed up and he had to quickly shift his attention their way. Oh well. Lucky for me Ken had already guided my ticket purchase and answered questions from this first timer, so ‘I loaned him out’ to help the school teachers keep the little ones in line while they got all their tickets. At that point, I noticed what I thought was a decent crowd gathering, and Ken confirmed that the head count of 62 was a bit busier than normal for a Tuesday morning.
“Will I get a seat?” I asked, nervously eyeing which of those little pug faces I could trample over to scramble on board once the train arrived.
“Oh yes,” Ken confirmed after calling ahead to report the numbers.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I had previously sent a text to my commuter passenger friend, KC, who was already on board saving me a spot (apologies if that’s against SunRail etiquette) since she gets on in DeBary. Seriously, I could only imagine the scene had I been forced to fight with a five year old for the last seat that morning!
So, our orderly group of awaiting passengers had all tapped our tickets on the required pre-boarding screen and were waiting patiently (yes, even most of the little ones) for the 10:23 train’s arrival. With a wave to my new friend, Ken, just as quickly and quietly as it had breezed into the AS station it swiftly pulled away and off we went. Maitland. Winter Park. Florida Hospitality Health Village. Central Station. Church St. Station. Orlando Health/Amtrak. Then the final stop, Sand Lake Road, and also our destination on that fine Tuesday morning. 11:03AM – right on time. So far so good.
We disembark here which also happens to be the end of the line at this point in the SunRail system and find another friend with car awaiting to take us to the final destination which was lunch at the super cool and totally rockin’ Tin Roof Restaurant located in the plaza adjacent to the Orlando Eye. The personal pickup was a surprisingly nice touch that KC had already pre-arranged, but normally in the fashion of a true big city commuter she takes an Uber lift from this station to her work a few miles away on IDrive. Yes Orlando, this is how one gets to work when trying to avoid I-4 traffic, and guess what? It works!
After enjoying a well above average – heck, this was just plain yummy! – lunch at Tin Roof (don’t even think about passing up that mac ‘n cheese and the chicken and waffles – you know you want it), I turned around and repeated the AM process arriving back at the Altamonte Springs station at 2:23PM. End of story? Not quite.
Here are a few more details I learned on this easy-breezy journey:
- SunRail is very user friendly. Passenger assistants like Ken are normally available only during peak operating hours, but the entire process is pretty straightforward and not unlike any other commuter system you may have ridden in other cities. Except it’s clean and shiny and new.
- SunRail is extremely comfy. On the outbound we sat upstairs in a booth with table and plenty of gadget outlets available, and on my return I was on the lower level in the Quiet Zone=heaven (and also perhaps a tiny bit of nap-time?).
- Even the loo was clean and tidy, something which I can’t say has normally been the case on my past commuter rides in other cities (hello, Chicago?)
- On. Time. Good. Deal.
I also noticed on my return trip that we picked up some of the same passengers that I had seen boarding with me at Altamonte in the AM, so it was obvious that others were out for a mid day lunch break as they re-boarded at Church St. Station and Winter Park. The system works.
And although it wasn’t quite as memorable or epic as the ‘Bud on the tracks SunRail Pub Crawl’ that Tod Caviness reported on back in February, it was a fun and successful first venture for me.
So, how about you? Isn’t it time for you to do SunRail, too?