VIDEO: Brightline’s International Drive, Universal stop secured with new funding, company officials say The long battle between Brightline and Universal Studios over the fate of the company’s Central Florida service appears to have come to an end. (Nick Papantonis, WFTV.com/WFTV)
ORLANDO, Fla. — The long-running battle between Brightline and Universal Studios over the fate of the company’s Central Florida service appears to have come to an end, thanks to a new federal grant awarded to the luxury passenger rail service on Wednesday.
According to a press release, Brightline received $15,875,000 from the US Department of Transportation. Combined with a matching amount from the company itself, the money will be used to support preliminary engineering and environmental approvals to start the western part of its route.
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The full $31,750,000 also provided another bonus: it exceeded the estimated $22 million needed to offset the cost of moving Brightline’s planned route between Orlando International Airport and Disney Springs, allowing lanes to follow SR-528 and construction of a second station near the Convention Center, International Drive and Universal, a company official said.
The alternative proposal, which differed from Brightline’s preferred route which followed SR-417 further south, was commonly referred to as the “Sunshine Corridor” by its backers.
“The Sunshine Corridor is a comprehensive and ambitious transportation solution for Central Florida. It represents the missing link in Brightline’s plan to connect Orlando and Tampa with a modern, eco-friendly intercity passenger train,” Brightline CEO Michael Reininger said in the statement.
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The result is considered a victory for all parties involved. The northern route passes through more industrial areas and will encounter less opposition from landowners. The rail line will provide a direct connection for visitors between the OIA and the second largest convention center in the United States, which will be a major publicity point, and will be either a quick ride or a shuttle to many hotels in I-Drive.
Universal is expected to donate land for the convention center station and provide other financial assistance, which would be another possible boost to the newly unified effort to install the rail line. The station is expected to be located near the park’s 1,000 affordable housing project.
However, the Brightline manager stressed that the new route will also benefit workers in the area, as SunRail is expected to use the tracks for its long-planned extension to OIA, which would likely also include the additional stop. Currently, many workers use a Lynx or SunRail bus to get to Orlando Central Station, followed by a bus to the I-Drive area, a trip that can take up to two hours a day. Direct connection via SunRail would significantly shorten this journey.
“I think there would be a huge impact on the area,” said Lynx pilot Douglas Houghton. “There are a ton of people working there. The buses are late, there are car accidents, traffic, they… get around it all.
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Brightline has yet to obtain approval from the FDOT and the Central Florida Expressway Authority to use rights of way along the routes it plans to follow. If construction deadlines are met without any delays, service by the two rail lines west of the airport could begin by the end of 2026.
Brightline service between OIA and South Florida is scheduled to begin in 2023.
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