Virgin Trains USA aims to bring a rail link to Walt Disney World

Apr 04, 2019 in "The Walt Disney Company"

Posted: Thursday April 4, 2019 5:02pm ET by WDWMAGIC Staff

The Orlando Sentinel is today reporting that Virgin Trains plans to build a station at Walt Disney World as it begins work on a rail link from South Florida to Central Florida.

Virgin Trains president Patrick Goddard said that the service "would integrate with their transportation system, hotels and theme parks."

The service would also include a station at Orlando International Airport, which could see a rail service from Miami to Orlando and to the theme parks. The expected timeframe is 30 - 36 months.

Aiming to reinvent train travel in the United States, Virgin Trains USA is the express inter-city passenger rail service that currently connects Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with plans to expand to Orlando and Tampa. The company, under direction of Sir Richard Branson, has raised nearly $1.8 billion in the last few weeks, enough to build the link to Orlando.

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bpiperAug 03, 2021

From Florida DOT extends deadline for Brightline lease agreement on Orlando-Tampa route By | July 28, 2021 Extension comes as expressway authority delays decision on preferred Brightline route along toll road TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Department of Transportation has extended the deadline for negotiations with Brightline on a lease on its proposed Orlando-Tampa passenger route, which had been set for July 31. In a July 19 letter to Brightline President Patrick Goddard, Brad Thoburn, the state DOT assistant secretary, strategic development, cited “significant progress” in negotiating terms use of the Central Florida Rail Corridor as part of the planned route. “Because of the progress to date … FDOT no longer believes a formal agreement is needed prior to July 31, 2021,” Thoburn wrote. The extension comes after the Central Florida Expressway Authority voted at a July 20 meeting to indefinitely delay a decision to allow Brightline to build along the agency’s state road 417, the passenger operator’s preferred route to reach Walt Disney World. The Orlando Sentinel reports that decision came as Universal Orlando, merchants in the International Drive tourism area, and residents of Hunter’s Creek push to reroute Brightline from its preferred corridor to one following State Road 528, another tollway, to the International Drive area, then along Interstate 4 to Disney World. That route, which would also take Brightline away from Hunter’s Creek, could cost an additional $294 million (the International Drive group’s estimate) to $700 million or more, according to a consultant hired by the expressway authority.

LilofanAug 01, 2021

I did better in gym class than in math in school.

TiggerDadJul 30, 2021

We need a disclaimer in the thread title if there's going to be math involved.

DisneySongbirdJul 30, 2021

Well, I do want to just say this first: I'm also fairly confident that I know what I'm talking about, and that's not because of who I may or may not have worked for. I'm confident because I know that the math and the public records and the best practices adopted here and abroad and the lessons we've learned over more than 200 years about how to run a railroad all bear out my arguments and so I will stand behind them. I'm not afraid to be wrong, though I don't think I am, and I'm not afraid to adjust course when new information becomes available. If I make the case and someone else makes a better case with better evidence, that's great! But if I ever have to fall back on who I am and not what I can demonstrate as a matter of public record, then that's when I've failed. And perhaps it's a character flaw of mine but I am never afraid to look anybody or any organization in the eye and say "I believe that you believe that, but you're wrong." Imagineer, I'll address the major points of your post now, and I believe that Brightline believes (and has adopted internal policies which reflect those beliefs and operationally structures itself following those policies and has internal discussions amongst its staff informed by those beliefs) in what you're saying here. But they're wrong. And you don't need to trust me on that, you can trust in the evidence to demonstrate that they are wrong. My choice of pointing at the Acela was very intentional. It is, generally speaking, meaningfully the same product as Brightline. It is a higher-speed intercity train connecting business and leisure travelers between three intensely popular destinations in NYC, PHI, and DC, with several intermediate and lower-intensity station stops. Brightline is a higher-speed intercity train that will be connecting business and leisure travelers between three intensely popular destinations in TPA, MCO, and MIA, with several intermediate and lower-intensity station stops. The trains themselves are different. The tracks they run on are different. But the experience of getting on and off that platform while the train is stopped there is, in every meaningful sense, the same. Amtrak's figured out how to get it done in under 60 seconds and was doing that for 19 years before, you know, the thing that happened. Brightline does not need to hire consultants from rail operators that do it every day in Japan or Europe to figure out how to routinely get 100 people on and off a train at a second-string station in 60 seconds. They probably don't even need to hire consultants from Amtrak to figure it out. It can be done, easily. Whether they want to or not is a different conversation - and to be clear, if they don't want to, they're sandbagging. Brightline's designs for the brand-new track that they're laying west from MCO indicate an all or nearly all double-tracked right of way. Whether Brightline builds the second track the whole way has no impact on having provisioned for it (and frankly, with the land being the most expensive part of laying down rail, if they have the provision not building is very pound-foolish.) Additionally, 15% design documentation suggests additional sidings for Sunrail trains to separate them from Brightline, and that every Brightline station has a minimum of two platformed tracks. In other words, there's going to be more than enough room to pass trains safely when and as needed. And with a crew change extended layover virtually guaranteed for MCO Station because that's where it makes operational sense to have it, it makes sense to control and dispatch MCO-West separate from MCO-East. Fortunate, since MCO-West by nature of being double-tracked and separated from non-passenger rail can support a much higher level of service. Again, I believe that they believe that the presence of long single-tracked segments on the shared freight portion of the line in southern FL prevent them from fully utilizing the tracks hundreds of route-miles away in central FL, but they're wrong. It's true that maximum operating speed isn't always achievable and that trains won't accelerate to maximum speed if they will then have to immediately begin decelerating. But, even leaving aside that it still is and remains operationally trivial to bypass OCCC thus removing it from consideration, we can turn back to the math to figure out how many meters of route is needed for the acceleration and we can then look at the route map to see how many route-km of top speed that sill leaves before the next deceleration point to determine if it's "worth it" to speed up or not. That formula is easy: distance traveled is equal to initial velocity multiplied by time, plus half the acceleration rate multiplied by time squared. We have all those numbers already - 54 seconds at 1.03 m/s^2 with a starting speed of 0 - and we can find that the train will have traveled just over 1.5 km from the moment it begins rolling out of OCCC until the moment it hits top speed. It won't hit top speed heading west because it hits the curve into the I-4 median at around the 1 km mark and 44 seconds into the acceleration run; I don't have the projected speed limit on that curve - just because there's still a lot of wiggle room as to what the precise radius even ends up at - but suffice to say it's not going to be 200 kmph. It might be 160 - conveniently, that's just about the speed that would be reached after 44 seconds of acceleration out of OCCC, which would mean that the real time penalty imposed by OCCC on the leg between it and the curve is just 44 seconds for the 0-160 plus an additional 10 seconds for the time it would've taken to go 160-200 over that stretch of track instead. 54 seconds total. Even if it's a 50 kph curve as I might choose to infer from your choice of example number, however, that just means that it's instead a 13.5 second penalty for 0-50 acceleration (which with the distance traveled while accelerating formula can be shown to take 93.85 meters) and then another 65.24 second penalty representing traveling the other 900~ meters at reduced speed plus a further 40.45 second penalty for not going 50-200 instead. That's a total of 119.19 seconds (let's call it 2 minutes) and requires some egregiously tight curvature, beyond what I would reasonably expect to see. It will most likely hit top speed heading east - even the most pessimistic napkin estimation of the curvature immediately east of OCCC has no speed penalty and everything else is straighter in comparison. (1.5 km puts us about halfway between Universal Blvd and John Young Pkwy, for those curious.) That means we can just take the 54 second figure for acceleration time penalty and move on to figuring out how much running room we have at top speed. Well, the next problematic curve is of course the one we would need to turn onto the Sunrail tracks with. The current plans suggest a very aggressive right-angle turn which would be a definite 50 kmph turn, even though there's plenty of room to widen the curve radius to something that can be handled at higher speeds. Regardless, the 40.45 seconds we need to decelerate down to 50 gives us a deceleration run about 1.4km long, which means if we start decelerating around where General Drive is, we'll be at the desired speed in time for the approximate start of the turn. That's more than 4 km away from the run up to OCCC station - more than both runs combined by far and more than enough to make it worth it to hit top speed for 90 seconds or so. In other words, we can disregard everything east of OCCC as being time-neutral. 54 seconds, plus 60 seconds of station dwell time, plus somewhere between 54 seconds and 2 minutes. Total penalty from OCCC existing: between 2 minutes 48 seconds and 3 minutes 54 seconds depending on the situation immediately west of the station. Brightline needs to take at least an extra two minutes sandbagging on the platform to get the stop penalty up to 6 minutes where it might start meaningfully impacting travel choices (frankly I don't think the average rider of Brightline is going to notice even then since there wouldn't be an entire second different Brightline route operating for them to compare to, and we've got to try much harder than this to throw the comparison race vs driving), at which point, the obvious thing to do to reduce travel times cheaply is to stop sandbagging. And yes, the designs are only 15%. There's a lot of studying left to do. We've got a long, long way to go. But 15% isn't 0. 15% is enough to give us an idea, a solid jumping off point to make calculations and inform decisions and as we move past 15% use those figures to improve the plan. I'm not taking anything as gospel. I'm open to adjustments. Are they?

lightguyJul 30, 2021

Brightline isn't building a replacement for magical express and they aren't building a tourist/commuter train from the airport to Disney OR Universal. They are building an InterCity rail system to take people between south Florida, central Florida and Tampa. If tourists want to ride it from the airport to wherever I'm sure they will be happy to take their money, but that's not their business model. If the City/County/I-Drive businesses want the 528 alignment then they need to come up with a way to finance the additional cost- a special tax district, a TIF, an additional fractional room tax or sales tax or whatever. There's lots of options. If they want it to be a tourist transportation system, then add in the additional design features and financing to allow additional shuttle trains to run back and forth from the airport to any I-Drive station and to the Disney station in between the Brightline trains. Between the Bright line trains and additional shuttle trains you could easily run service every 15 or 20 min. But the stations would need to be designed with additional platforms or with the platforms on sidings so the mainline is clear all the time. All it takes is vision and money....but the localities and businesses need to step up if that's what they want. Personally, I think its ridiculous that they haven't already built a light rail/monorail/gondola from Disney Springs, up I-Drive to Universal or even to Downtown Orlando. If they were smart, they'd create a resort tax district and build that. It would pay of 10x in the future through better, denser development and less traffic.

Imagineer45Jul 29, 2021

I used to work with Brightline. I am fairly confident I know what I am talking about here, but I will address a couple major points. Stops less than two minute are possible for some trains, sure, but Brightline trains will have too many passengers unloading and loading at each station for this to be feasible. Yes, it could potentially happen for a lighter passenger load, but it will never be scheduled for less than this. In fact, the dwell time will likely be more than two minutes. Additionally, stops cannot be skipped as easily as Amtrak can on the NEC. The NEC has at least double track all the way through, with station sites typically having even more sidings. Brightline has long sections of single track, so the trains have to be timed in each direction so they are not forced to stop and wait for one another. If trains only stop at some stations part of the time, these meeting points will have too much fluctuation to adequately design a system. A better comparison is Amtrak's long haul routes, which operate on long segments of single track as well and have poor coordination with freight trains in the other direction, resulting in long delays of trains waiting on sidings for the other to pass (Google Amtrak's long haul on time performance). The math works in theory, but it is not practical. A train will never accelerate and decelerate to always achieve its maximum operating speed because it is not efficient and not as comfortable for riders. Example: If there is a 30 mph curve, followed by a 100 mph straightaway, followed by another 30 mph curve within the next 1/2 mile, the train will likely stick at 30 mph all the way through or perhaps only increase slightly for the middle section. This also means that even though a route may appear less hilly or curvy overall, the placement of these slower sections relative to one another can make the route actually slower. I will add that the travel time between the two routes with no intermediate stops is pretty close, but a 528 alignment would mean that an I-Drive station exists, and because a stop would be added every time for the reasons I stated earlier, the travel time is much higher. Also, do not take all of the layout work presented as gospel to use for precise calculations. It is at 15% design.

DisneySongbirdJul 29, 2021

No they don't, no they don't, yes they can, and no it's not. In order: We don't even have to go abroad to address most of these points because 2019 Amtrak, itself hardly a shining example of competent railroad operation in the 21st century, gets its intercity Acela Express and Northeast Regional trains into and out of most of their serviced stations in under one minute of platform time - including very busy stations in popular destinations like BWI, Baltimore Penn, Stamford, CT, and Providence, RI. 2021 Amtrak scheduling those stops for 2 minutes has more to do with current events than it does with a regression in operational capability, and it only schedules unreasonably long dwell times at DC Union Station, Philadelphia 30th Street, New York Penn and New Haven to facilitate crew changes at those locations (and in the case of its continuining services outside of the electrified corridor, to facilitate sticking an entirely different locomotive onto the train). Siemens Charger locomotives operating as a pair, such as those that Brightline is using on its trains right now, are fully capable of accelerating the consist to its cruising speed in 45 seconds - but this is going to have to rely largely on anecdotal evidence and some napkin math since Siemens isn't publicly advertising their acceleration rate on the locomotive model used by Brightline. But that's fine, because they do give out the locomotive weight (120,001 kg) and the tractive effort (290 kN), so we can infer from the definition of a Newton (the energy needed to accelerate 1 kg by 1 m/s^2) that one locomotive on its own can accelerate 290,000 kg at 1 m/s^2, or roughly 233,871 kg by 1.24 m/s^2. Accelerating from 0 at a rate of 1.24 m/s^2 gets us to 55.8 m/s after 45 seconds, which is just under 201 kmph ... or the stated top speed of 125 mph. So far, so good. Both locomotives operating together add their forces, so after subtracting the weight of the locomotives themselves, we're left with around 227,740 kg to cover the rest of the train and everything on it. Brightline currently operates four-car consists - Siemens hasn't made the weight of each individual car available, but we can infer it to likely be around 63,000 kg based on more anecdotal evidence (in this case, the weights of various railcars including the OG Acela Express.) Here's where we run into a slight problem since that puts us at 252,000 kg - our train's now "over-budget" by 24,260 kg and we haven't even put anybody on it yet. So we have to go back to our initial acceleration calculation and adjust for the weight of the train itself, plus let's just absolutely load this thing down with another 70,000 kg in warm bodies and way too much luggage. (Brightline's stated capacity is 240 passengers. The train could be fully sold out with every single passenger weighing 450 lbs with another 150 lbs of luggage each and that would still be about 4700 kg short of our extremely corpulent "goal," which nicely accounts for food/fuel/crew weight. This number was deliberately selected to be absurdly high to head off the argument of 'well but we can't know how much the passengers weigh.') Well, we end up at 562,002 kg, but I'm going to knock 2kg off to make the math a bit better. Remember, we have two locomotives which together can accelerate 580,000 kg at 1 m/s^2 - or our new 562,000 kg at 1.032 m/s^2. At 1.03 m/s^2 we need just over 54 seconds to hit our top speed of 55.8 m/s^2. Now you and I may have very different definitions of what "extensive" means and that's fine, but when I hear extensive, I don't think "54 seconds." I think "over 2 minutes," an acceleration rate that we need to be dragging one locomotive as complete dead weight AND operating the other at 83% of its stated maximum to fall down to. Again, Amtrak is hardly where I would point my finger and say "it can't get any better than this" or even "this is what passenger rail in the US should be striving for," but it's managed to figure out how to run trains at speed past active platforms without stopping or in several cases even meaningfully slowing down. Kingston, RI is a station sitting right on the only genuinely high-speed train tracks in America, and Amtrak recently completed a project to build high-level platforms servicing all three tracks which presently pass through the station. You can reach out and touch a passing Acela Express train as it blasts through there at 125+ MPH, every single day, several times a day. Commuter rail stations up and down New England see Amtrak trains roll through at speeds anywhere from 49 to 110+ MPH, many times on an active platformed track. They only don't do this in most places south of New York because there are generally non-platformed tracks for them to use there. Brightline is similarly operationally capable of doing whatever it wants to - the only thing that might outright inhibit them from skipping OCCC some or all of the time is if the tracks were at capacity and doing so would cause the trains to stack up on each other at other points in the line - a conversation to revisit when 8+ trains per hour each way with multiple different service levels are operating between MCO and Tampa. Brightline's current plans call for 1, plus maybe another 1 or 2 for Sunrail (which in the linked documentation from my previous post would be blowing a hypothetical $38 million on building a siding in the hypothetical OCCC station to avoid having to purchase trainsets compatible with high-level boarding instead and is therefore irrelevant since Brightline could just hold Sunrail at OCCC while it passes its own trains through in any situation where it would've otherwise become a problem.) Finally, the top speed of a closed railway system such as what would be built here is impacted by three things only: the quality of the rails, which is neutral between options; the curvature of the track (417 is undeniably worse just looking at it, so please forgive me for not measuring curve radii here since I'm much less invested in proving that 417 has a lot of curves than I was in proving that the trains can accelerate quickly); and the slope of the grades, for which 528 may well be worse - but at the stated price tag, that's highly unlikely, since $1 billion can likely purchase an extremely long viaduct upon which the grade would largely be flat. I'll admit to not yet drilling into the public documentation deeply enough to have a solid understanding of how many steep hills or dips the 528 alignment needs to minimize the amount of elevated structure it has and therefore reduce the cost to something less hilarious. But I have my doubts, I really do. More thoughts coming later.

Magic FeatherJul 29, 2021

What if I said no… (but yes, yes I did 😔)

monothingieJul 29, 2021

They've transitioned from high speed rail, to high speed land boat.

UNCgolfJul 29, 2021

Accidentally post this in the wrong thread?

Imagineer45Jul 29, 2021

It is not quite this simple. Inter-city trains need a minimum of two minutes on the platform, plus extensive time to slow down. Additionally, with the way Brightline is being operated, any I-Drive station would not be able to be bypassed for a quicker trip to Tampa/WDW if desired. The route is slower than it seems without a station anyway due to the geometry, and it is really better off serviced by commuter or regional rail. I used to think it made more sense as well, but it really does not. Also, Brightline is not being electrified in Florida anytime soon. FEC has zero interest in catenary wires on their tracks and there is little room for speed improvements with all of the grade crossings and existing curves. It is probably true that 528 would make more sense for Orlando alone, but that is irrelevant. Brightline is an inter-city rail, and 528 just does not make sense for it. If Orlando wants to go ahead and build the best rail system possible for itself, then it can go ahead with 528. However, given that rail is not particularly popular in the region, SunRail and many government officials really do not have a preference and are grateful that something will be built rather than nothing. The odds Brightline would go to WDW if it were not for the fact that it is on the way to Tampa are low. It is too close to the MCO station to justify a build for an inter-city rail.

DisneySongbirdJul 29, 2021

Here's the official CFX website's record of the July 20th hearing with an 86(!) page PDF of the meeting agenda and attachments. Some fascinating stuff in there, including a lot of hard numbers - I might have a more comprehensive breakdown post with my thoughts coming some time later today or tomorrow. And here's their archive of video recordings, now including July 20th. I'd have some popcorn ready before firing the video up.

DisneySongbirdJul 29, 2021

It actually hasn't given them any ammunition at all. They'd still be fighting to get the project scrapped even if Brightline hadn't proposed or planned a Disney Springs Station, because you can spit from the right of way and hit somebody in Disney Springs. And that's bad for Universal because it means Disney or Brightline or both can go back and infill the station at any time in the future. That's the "controversy," and actually getting Universal to exit the discussion would require both existing alignments to be thrown out and Brightline to present an alternative which doesn't get within two miles of Disney. Considering where Disney is located and where the I-4 provision for rail is located literally next to it, that almost certainly means some kind of bad routing like staying on the Sunrail alignment from Meadow Woods all the way down to Tampa - which hasn't been in consideration for HSR in the past two decades for multiple very good reasons. Universal either wants something for nothing (whether that's a free station or another handsome sum of public money), or it wants to ensure that Disney can't ever possibly benefit from the train. They are not acting on good faith and they haven't been for 26 years of local decisionmaking. Captiulating to them helps nobody - certainly not Brightline itself.

DisoneJul 29, 2021

I agree 100%. But it is also giving Universal and I drive an absolute fit and ammunition to fight this. Orlando Airport already has the infrastructure in place to transport people to all of the area attractions. So that's why I was suggesting to bright-line to give up that piece for the sake of the rest of the project.