Rollins College Gets on Board SunRail

Members of the College’s Democracy Project learn about the origins and benefits of the new commuter train.

Because the new SunRail commuter line opened right before the end of the 2014 spring semester, many Rollins students may still be unfamiliar with the service. But many are familiar with the ways that access to safe, affordable transportation creates more equal access to work opportunities.

So it was on the minds of a large group of students when they answered a campus survey. Responding to those requests for more information about issues related to the democratic process and transportation, the College’s Democracy Project offered a trip recently for students to learn about SunRail, how it came about, and its convenience. They heard from representatives of several organizations located near SunRail stations to underscore the many community service opportunities, including internships and service sites, and to show how accessible they are by SunRail and bus routes.

“I think this will be great for students,” says My Tien Doan ’15, who is the student coordinator for the student-led Democracy Project. “It’s very simple to get to downtown Orlando.”

Doan said her group plans to spread the word to other students about the ease of the system, which runs 32 miles from DeBary in Volusia County through Altamonte Springs in Seminole County and into downtown Orlando, ending at Sand Lake Road in south Orange County.

The modern, comfortable trains feature Wi-Fi, power outlets at all seats, and bike and luggage racks. That’s one of the reason that Sofia Macias ’14 uses the train to commute to work as the Interim Office and Community Coordinator for the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement (CLCE) at Rollins College. She said she’s happy to avoid traffic hassles and save fuel costs and frustration by taking the train from the Sand Lake station to Winter Park.

“I can plug in and do some work or just read and relax,” Macias says.

The group invited Representative John Mica to speak at the Winter Park station about the mass transit project that he championed for more than 20 years.

Mica—a Florida Republican and former chair of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure—said that Central Florida had been missing out on federal mass transit funding until the SunRail project got the greenlight in 2007. Mica also described how the practice of supporting transportation projects with federal funds goes all the way back to the times of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

After a question-and-answer session with the congressman, the students took a short round-trip tour from Winter Park to Church Street in Orlando, stopping at the Florida Hospital station.

Along the way, the group heard from community partners such as Orlando Science Center, the Ronald McDonald House, ecoPreserve, and a representative from the office U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Orlando) about their organizations’ efforts and internship and volunteer possibilities—all within convenient reach of the mass transit system.

For Rollins students, the Winter Park station in Central Park is in easy walking distance from campus and the trip to the Florida Hospital area takes just seven minutes. It’s five more minutes by rail to the central Lynx station in downtown Orlando and another three minutes to Church Street, also in downtown Orlando. The cost for the round trip was $3.75, although cheaper prepaid plans exist.

Marissa Corrente, assistant director of CLCE, which provides support and guidance to the Democracy Project, said they will continue efforts to make students aware of community engagement options available off campus, especially those that don’t require a car.

Plans are underway to expand the commuter train to Kissimmee in Osceola County in 2016, according to the SunRail website.