The curious tale of a monorail in Orlando


I make no secret of my love for mass transit systems, particularly when they connect to airports. When I read tales of such systems coming to the USA I’m always a bit skeptical, mostly because so few cities here understand mass transit well. And when I read about such stories in Florida, well, forget about it. And so it was that I came across this piece in the Orlando Sentinel which has left me absolutely dumbfounded.

The gist of the story is that there are a number of rail projects happening in the Orlando area and the main airport there (MCO) wants to be connected to them. That makes all sorts of sense. Sadly, however, things start to fall apart pretty quickly after that. Apparently a private company is looking to build a $1 billion train connection between Miami and Orlando. But in order to connect it to the airport there is the need for a 1 mile monorail segment connecting a station the rail company will build to the main terminal. That one mile apparently will cost $181 million, plus nearly $80 million in other infrastructure improvements. In other words, one mile costs about a quarter of the full Miami-Orlando run. Say what?!?!

The station in Orlando is also supposed to be capable of connecting to SunRail, a local commuter rail system which is currently under construction. SunRail will require a bus to transfer from the closest station a couple miles away into the airport proper. And it also seems that the new rail station is being targeted for the opposite side of the airfield as the SunRail station, despite the suggestion that they will somehow be integrated.

I’m a big fan of mass transit and I’d love to see something like this work out. But the ideas out there right now just don’t make sense. Bad connections, bad station locations and wacky numbers. It just doesn’t add up.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

12 Comments

  1. I am kind of surprised Disney has not developed such line connecting MCO to their majestic resort.

    1. Disney does have a bus service they offer for transfers. I’m pretty sure they even have the ability to do check-in for some airlines while still at the resort. But Disney is also pretty far away from downtown so running rail all the way out there isn’t as practical.

      I still think this is a debacle waiting to happen.

  2. The Disney bus service is very functional and drops you at your Disney accomodation directly, I doubt any sort of rail would do that. And, as Seth mentions, it’s a decent haul from airport to Disney.

  3. Haha Monorail estimates are pretty notorious anyways… If it follows other projects of this type, that $181 million will double/triple before they would have ever broken ground.

  4. Well at least it’s a start. If i recall correctly though, a high speed rail link station should’ve have been possible to be built underneath MCO. However, after Rick Retard Scott came to town…no more high speed rail. I’m glad a private company is willing to try and step in here but, I’m fearful that they’ll fold just as people start to get excited. HSR should’ve happened here in FL 10 years ago. It’s about time it gets built.

    And the monorail technology MCO seems interested in sounds like the Walt Disney World monorail tech…they had to build their system at close to a million per mile. I have no idea what is it about those beams but for some reason it is expensive. I feel like they should use the same people mover technology that shuttles folks between the airside and back except with extended cars or with a moving block system that allows multiple trains on the same track for quick and efficient movement.

  5. Sorry….I read that wrong….I meant $100 mil a mile. And that seems to be close to the going rate for transit projects like this. Oh and that seems about the ball park range for these kinds of transit systems. ORD spent 127 million for a 2.7 mile system in the early 1990s (so accounting for inflation…), and SFO’s Airtrain (built in 2000-2003) was $430 mil for 6 miles…probably got a discount for going past 4 miles :p. So seeing how the prices vary in each of these 10 year blocks….not much of a surprise.

    1. If it is $100mm/mile for a monorail then I’m very confused how the HSR to Miami would only be $1bn. Something is just strange there.

      And I still think that all the logistics of it are ridiculous, most notably that they aren’t going to bother directly connecting the real rail to the terminal directly. That’s just annoying.

  6. I live in Orlando and have followed these rail projects. They are slow motion train wrecks, figuratively speaking.

    SunRail will be impractical to use to get to the airport. It will take too long to wait for the train, ride then train and then wait for the bus. Most people will instead simply drive the 30-40 minutes to the airport. The roads to the airport are not overly congested so it’s much easier to drive.

    The Miami-Orlando route also does not make a lot of sense to me. It is already well served by LCCs running between MCO and South Florida, or AA from MCO to MIA. It’s a short, cheap 1 hour flight. Also, you can also drive since Florida Turnpike runs straight between the two cities. In addition, I-95 runs parallel for part of the route, so you have two major highways that are not at undercapacity. Unless you plan to walk around on foot at your destination, you will want have to rent a car after getting off the train, in which case you might as well drive. Lastly, Amtrak already has service between Orlando and Miami. It is not a popular route.

    @WingsOTWOrld: Rick Scott actually was smart to scrap high speed rail. That was a pork project to “create jobs” but it actually would have created a useless rail connection between Orlando and Tampa. I-4 runs between the two cities, and it is not that busy (people drive 75 mph+ on that route). More importantly, that is only a 60 minute drive. Even at high rail speeds, once you factor in waiting time for the train, and the fact that you’ll need a rental car or a taxi after you get off the train, it’s really not worth it. HSR would not have saved money or time vs driving. It’s one of the few times a politician has made a common sense decision.

  7. Yeah the cost differential is puzzling. One reason that the rail to Miami is lower than we’d expect is because Florida East Cost Industries (the company behind the effort) already owns a freight rail system that travels most of the route between Orlando and Miami. So, the rights of way and probably other rail infrastructure are already in place. Also, I don’t think this is actually HSR. I think it’s just private passenger service a la non-Acela Amtrak. That is less expensive.

    The $100+ mil sounds high to me for the monorail. I am guessing that some (or most) of this figure is involved with remodeling the existing airport facilities. I don’t see how they will get a monorail from the parking lot into the airport without tearing down or going thru a lot of the existing building.

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