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Article by: Kevin Spear
Despite lagging ridership, construction delays and doubts about funding, Central Florida’s SunRail was the little train that could Saturday when it recorded its busiest day for paying passengers since it went into service in 2014.The Saturday count of 12,842 passengers, which is more than triple the daily average, appeared linked to the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival and, to a lesser degree, Orlando’s college basketball playoffs and an Orlando City Soccer match.
The previous highest daily count for paying passengers had been Jan. 2, 2015, when SunRail carried 8,842 riders, said Jen Horton, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
SunRail ordinarily operates only on weekdays; Jan. 2 two years ago was a Friday following the New Year’s holiday.
Saturday also was by far the busiest — and possibly the last — of eight Saturdays sponsored as a trial of weekend service by businesses and government entities. Each Saturday cost the sponsors more than $20,000.
Winter Park’s station near Park Avenue has been among the busiest of the SunRail’s 12 stations.
According to Winter Park and state Department of Transportation analysis, the Winter Park station is in a virtual tie for ridership with the DeBary station at the north end of SunRail’s route and with the Sand Lake Road station at the south end.
“I think the numbers suggest that we are a destination,” said Kyle Dudgeon, manager of Winter Park’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
On Saturday, about 4,000 riders got off at Winter Park; the station was busy with riders getting on and off there from late morning until early evening.
The second-busiest station was at Church Street, where 2,200 passengers arrived. Most riders got off there from late afternoon through early evening, and a surge of boarding began at 9:30 p.m.
SunRail occasionally has offered free service, resulting in daily counts comparable to Saturday’s record.