The train that will run from South to Central Florida will stop at Walt Disney World and SunRail’s Meadow Wood station at about the same time it opens its Orlando airport station, Virgin Trains’ president said Thursday.
When Virgin trains begin service from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and beyond, the Orlando area will gain the distinction for hosting nearly the fastest rail travel in the United States.
The 39 miles of Virgin’s twin-track corridor from Cocoa to Orlando International Airport will be entirely new, have no crossings and will be intensively maintained to minimize bumping or jarring.
Virgin officials say that stretch, when service begins in 2022, will sustain a speed of 125 mph that, while not the fastest in the U.S., is experienced more as a smooth glide than a typical ride. Parallel traffic on State Road 528, the Beachline Expressway, will be “left in the dust,” company officials noted.
“We expect passengers to look out the window and be surprised at how fast they are moving,” said Patrick Goddard, president of Virgin Trains USA.
The privately owned Virgin Trains will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at Orlando International Airport later this month.
Infused with more than $2.5 billion in tax-exempt bonds, the passenger rail company formerly branded as Brightline is starting up 36 months of construction to extend service north from West Palm Beach to Orlando’s airport.
Passenger service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach began last year. That 67-mile trip takes a little more than 70 minutes. The 235-mile ride from Miami to Orlando is slated for three hours. Virgin also plans an extension to Tampa with a stop at Disney World. No timetable has been disclosed for that initiative.
Virgin’s station at Orlando International was completed two years ago, housed as part of a soaring structure south of the airport’s main terminal in an area where a new airport terminal is under construction.
That $221 million building is to be a hub for airport shuttles, Virgin Trains and potentially Central Florida’s SunRail commuter system.
Yet to come for Virgin at the airport is a massive maintenance building to service the high-tech trains. Site clearing for that 200,000-square-feet facility has begun.
The company also will build 6 miles of track on airport property, boosting its investment at Orlando International to $160 million.
Elsewhere along Virgin’s expansion from West Palm Beach to Orlando, crews will build a second track next to an existing track along the state’s east coast.
That work will be done along 128 miles from West Palm Beach to Cocoa. Nearly 90 percent of the bridges and all of the signal system along that stretch will be rebuilt.
Next month, motorists on S.R. 528 may notice earth work for rail corridor that will cross south Orange County through an area of state conservation lands and Deseret Ranches pasture.
Michael Cegelis, Virgin’s senior vice president for rail infrastructure, said the ride from Miami to Orlando will span three speed limits.
From Miami to West Palm, Virgin Trains will be limited to 79 mph.
From West Palm Beach to Cocoa, top speed will be 110 mph.
From Cocoa to Orlando International Airport, speed will vary slightly.
Cegelis said at Interstate 95, Virgin tracks will pass under S.R. 528 from its north side to its south side, a jog that will hold trains to 90 mph.
From I-95 to State Road 417, Virgin Trains will hug S.R. 528 – the Beachline – at 125 mph. Even motorists breaking the 70 mph speed limit on the adjoining expressway will be quickly overtaken by Virgin’s trains, company officials noted.
Amtrak’s Acela Express between Washington D.C. and Boston advertises itself as capable of 150 mph, making it the nation’s fastest rail service. But Acela is hampered by an aging track corridor and doesn’t often reach that speed.