Report: Disney World Drops Out of Florida Rail Plan

June 27, 2022, 6:02 PM · The Walt Disney World Resort is bailing out of plans for a high-speed rail system across Central Florida, according to a new report.

The proposed Brightline expansion from the Orlando International Airport to the Tampa area was supposed to stop at a station in Disney Springs. Brightline's own website detailing the expansion plan even includes the Disney Springs stop. (Well, it did, as of the publication of this post.) But now that plans are in the works for a station near International Drive, Disney is pulling out, according to the Orlando Business Journal.

“As many people who are involved in this project are aware, the new route configuration does not support a Disney Springs station and as a result, we don’t anticipate being part of this project," a Disney spokesperson told the Orlando Business Journal's Richard Bilbao.

The privately developed Brightline now runs from Miami to West Palm Beach, with an extension under construction to the Orlando International Airport that is expected to begin service next year. The next phase of the railway was to continue on to Tampa, initially extending west from the Orlando airport along the Central Florida GreeneWay to Disney Springs.

But Universal Orlando and other businesses in the International Drive area, including local government officials who wanted the Orange County Convention Center to be included, complained about that route, which would have gone straight from the airport to Disney. Universal even offered land next to the convention center - and its upcoming Epic Universe theme park - for a Brightline station, which would be the first station riders boarding at the airport would reach.

That route moves the Brightline down Taft Vineland Road to State Road 528, and then along Interstate 4. As such, it would not preclude a stop at Disney Springs, as the shopping and dining district's Grapefruit parking garage backs up to the Interstate. But for now, it appears that Disney will not participate in the rail project unless it gets a route more to its liking.

And that's a missed opportunity for Central Florida visitors who would like to see another transportation option to the region's theme parks from the Orlando airport.

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Replies (28)

June 27, 2022 at 7:05 PM

WDW declining a stop is a big mistake and a huge benefit for UOR. Disney is blowing it and with this and Epic Universe, UOR is about to BLOW OPEN Orlando!

June 27, 2022 at 7:21 PM

How about Disney contracts with Brightline for a new “Magical Express” service for its guests that skips the I Drive station and goes direct to Disney Springs? Does that solve this problem?

June 27, 2022 at 8:36 PM

It isn't just Universal and the Orange County Convention Center that benefit with the new rail alignment. SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica are just south of the Bee Line (what locals still call State Road 528) at International Drive.

June 27, 2022 at 9:03 PM

Here we go again, folks. Just like the last time a rail link from OIA to Walt Disney World was proposed, the Mouse was only game if the train stoped at WDW and only WDW. As soon as it looks like somebody other than Disney might benefit from a rail connection to OIA, the Disney Springs station gets turned back into a pumpkin.

Hopefully, support for the Brightline extension doesn’t fall apart this time with Disney taking its ball and going home, because Universal, OCCC, and SunRail would all benefit from the current agreement.

As for the folks at Disney who decided to kill the station, a few things you should try to remember: (1) You’re not the only destination resort in town anymore. (2) Assuming Brightline makes it to Tampa, it’s gonna cost you a lot more money to build a WDW station after the line’s open. (3) Since you killed Magical Express, you don’t have easy(ish), free direct service from OIA anymore. And you’d better believe Universal is going to give away free Brightline tickets with their packages so that they can advertise that they do.

June 27, 2022 at 9:12 PM

Robert, a contracted route with Brightline offering a direct route from OIA to Disney Springs would be a brilliant idea. So would service from OIA to a Disney-financed station at or near Port Canaveral. Probably too brilliant for the current crop of folks at DPEP to consider it though.

June 27, 2022 at 9:27 PM

I think that Disney is playing hardball and they'll eventually come back to the table.

June 27, 2022 at 11:09 PM

OMG, a spur route from OIA to Port Canaveral makes way too much sense to actually happen.

June 27, 2022 at 11:43 PM

The poster above is correct it appears Disney is throwing a hissy fit because they won't have a direct line from the airport, the last thing on the planet they want people stopping at before they get to Disney World is Universal/I-Drive.

That being said even without Disney I would still gladly ride this train to Miami or Tampa over driving and I think if the price is reasonable a lot of people will feel the same way. But this still does nothing to solve Orlando's transportation woes with Sunrail and Lynx, both of which badly need substantial expansions.

June 28, 2022 at 6:00 AM

I may be misunderstanding the Brightline operation, but it strikes me that opening a station at either I-Drive or Disney Springs doesn't sound like a really great idea.

Consider the following:

As I understand it, the Brightline trains arrive and dispatch at the Intermodal Transportation Facility -- located about a mile south of the existing OIA terminal.


That means if a passenger arrives at OIA and their flight lands at Terminal A or Terminal B they would:

- Disembark the plane.
- Ride a train to the main terminal (train #1).
- Pick -Up their luggage.
- Schlep their luggage to a train (train #2) that will take them one mile south to the transportation hub.
- Board the Brightline (train #3).
- Take the Brightline to a station (I-Drive or Disney Springs).
- Disembark the Brightline and board a shuttle (van or taxi) that then takes them to their hotel.

All things (and trains) considered it's not that difficult to understand why Disney might weigh these considerations and decide there's no substantial value that comes with spending a few million bucks on a station at Disney Springs.

June 28, 2022 at 6:40 AM

TH Creative, completely agree...when talks first surfaced of this train idea way back in the late 1990's, that was the argument I made. Too many transfers and the guests would have a much easier time just taking a taxi or airport shuttle. And probably cheaper to boot. Shortly after, the Magical Express was born and no more talk of a train.

June 28, 2022 at 7:55 AM

JetBlue is the big winner at OIA, as they are moving to Terminal C in September, and Terminal C is part of the Intermodal facility. As TH Creative mentions above, everybody else landing at OIA at either Terminal A or B has many more connections to make before setting foot on the Brightline.

As for Port Canaveral, I don't see a spur happening, as it appears Brightline is planning a future station in Cocoa just 10 miles west of Port Canaveral...

June 28, 2022 at 7:56 AM

I actually agree with TH Creative, getting off the plane, to get on a train (that would probably cost money), to transfer to a bus, was going to be very unappealing for most people with families to begin with. IMO having a station at Disney was going to be more for people visiting from Miami/Ft Lauderdale/West Palm/Tampa/[hopefully in the future Cocoa Beach and Jacksonville] being able to go to Disney without having to get off at the airport.

June 28, 2022 at 9:16 AM

There are also questions about how often the train leaves the airport (once every half hour?), and whether or not it runs 24 hours a day (arrive two hours early for a flight -- what time are you getting up to catch the train if you have a 7 AM or 8 AM flight?)

I just don't see how building a station benefits Disney.

I will say this, Harris Rosen would be DELIGHTED to see an I-Drive station built. His resorts (the Rosen Centre, the Rosen Plaza and the Rosen Shingle Creek) would benefit the most from a station.

June 28, 2022 at 11:26 AM

As someone who lives right by a train station heading to Chicago, I can assure you, it's not as easy as it sounds as anything from rough weather to other bits can affect times which is tricky getting to and from an airport.

And as TH Creative points out, having folks moving from plane to shuttle to a train and then a shuttle/bus is too much of a hassle, much easier to just take a ride from airport to resort. So as much we can blame this on usual Disney greed, the logistics also a factor.

June 28, 2022 at 12:08 PM

How does this have anything to do with "Disney greed"? It's not a convenient option for guests -- who would likely have to pay for the service.

June 28, 2022 at 6:26 PM

TH Creative, I’ll give you and the other posters a point that going from OIA to Universal, Disney, or OCCC is going to be more involved that getting a taxi or a shuttle (although to take a van or a shuttle, you have to take about half the steps you mentioned anyway). But let’s be honest here - taking the train to WDW didn’t become “impractical” to Disney until Brightline decided to pursue a station near OCCC. Heaven forbid that WDW guests have an easier way to leave the property when they visit!

June 28, 2022 at 10:10 PM

I think it is just Disney's negotiating tactics, eventually everyone will get together and make a deal.

June 29, 2022 at 1:13 AM

As an Orlando resident, I’m happy. Nobody has mentioned the connection at Meadow Woods and how this is supposed to connect SunRail, and therefore the entire region, to Tampa and South Florida. If we are going to combat climate change and increase livability, then we need to make sure our region is properly connected.

If Disney is going to be so petty that it is willing to cut off future connectivity for the region, then so be it. Yes, Disney helped put Central Florida on the map, but it really hasn’t done much for the region once it expanded beyond three parks. After all, it is trying to make life more difficult for an entire metro area while having zero regard for climate change and livability just to ward off some competition.

And honestly, I’m kind of disgusted with the way people have rushed to defend Disney once its special district was threatened. I think it’s time to end it. It should have never been allowed. Even though the reasoning behind ending it was wrong, it doesn’t change the fact that the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy.

Thanks Disney for keeping our wages low and our legislators in your back pocket.

June 29, 2022 at 3:55 AM

Schnebs writes: "Heaven forbid that WDW guests have an easier way to leave the property when they visit!"

Me: How is the train "easier" than grabbing an Uber? To use the train you have to take a second form of transportation to the train station and then transfer (and wait for) a train ... and then go through the same process to return to your hotel. Plus, taking a train has a "per person" cost -- meaning that "easier" method could be more expensive than a standard taxi or Uber.

June 29, 2022 at 3:56 AM

O-Resident: "After all, it is trying to make life more difficult for an entire metro area while having zero regard for climate change and livability just to ward off some competition."

Me: How exactly would Disney's decision about the train "ward off some competition"?

June 29, 2022 at 10:40 AM

TH Creative: Disney’s proposal and willingness was to give the land was to ensure that there were no stops between the airport and Disney. Disney didn’t get what it wanted, a nonstop trip between MCO and Disney, so it backed out.

The primary purpose was never the airport. The main purpose from the beginning (back in the Florida Overland Express days) was to connect the regions of Tampa, Orlando, and Miami. That was one of the driving forces in the creation of SunRail. However, MCO has always been directly on the route, so it only made sense to have a stop there.

And that airport connection to Orlando has always been a problem for Disney…

It goes back further than the Disney Springs stop. It is and was about making it difficult to travel between the airport and anywhere in Orlando if you are a tourist in the region. It is not Disney’s airport. It is Orlando’s airport. That is why it has always been behind the scenes trying to kill the project. It did with the Florida Overland Express, but Brightline took its spot, so Disney tried another method.

Nope! It doesn’t get to kill progress when it comes to connecting the residents of Orlando with the rest of the state. This project has the potential to influence other cities to make a real difference when it comes to improving our nation’s social progress and combating climate change.

For a company that loves to toot its horn about the good it does, it sure is hypocritical.

June 29, 2022 at 11:30 AM

@O-Resident: Yeah, but how does it "ward off competition"? The train is still going to stop at I-Drive. How does its decision to back out of donating land for the station "ward off competition.

Your write: "And that airport connection to Orlando has always been a problem for Disney."

Me: Could you add some explanation to that assertion? I'm not saying it's wrong, I am just trying to understand how that "problem" has manifested itself in terms of park attendance, or hotel reservations, or whatever else.

June 29, 2022 at 11:49 AM

Well put, O-Resident! TH Creative, I think that American cities need to offer additional options to break dependency on the car, like many major cities outside North America do. For me, being able to visit three of the biggest cities in Florida and its biggest tourist attractions and have at least some options to make the trip car-free is a good thing. If other people prefer to get an Uber, a cab, or a shuttle and spend a while stuck on the parking lot that’s the I-4, that’s their choice.

And before anybody chimes in with “There are plenty of other road options besides I-4”, let’s not kid ourselves. Eventually, all that development along the toll roads in central Florida will make these roads just as congested as I-4, which means FDOT will get stuck in a never-ending loop of road expansion to meet induced demand. Give people a better public transportation option than a bus running on a surface street and at least some people (like all those European visitors used to taking public transportation back home) will use it.

June 29, 2022 at 12:08 PM

Disney only offered land for a station in order to keep Brightline (the private company that picked up after they funded the fight against FOX, and it was killed off) from wanting to put a station anywhere near I-Drive or the convention center. (Side Note: Disney is in the convention business, but is losing in that area.)

It’s no secret that Disney wants to take up the entire vacation time, and wants to make it logistically difficult for anyone who flys into MCO to travel anywhere except Disney. That is why the Airport connection has always been a problem for Disney.

I understand Disney’s reasoning and position, but it still affects the millions of people who call Florida home. We appreciate tourist, but for a company that claims to be socially responsible and environmentally friendly, it sure is hypocritical.

June 29, 2022 at 12:12 PM

Let's be honest with the amount of money Disney and Universal are charging most of the guests coming into Orlando have higher then average income and would not be using this train anyways. Pretty much all people would be getting rental cars anyways. Even if you didn't get a rental car and planned on staying on site there are too many connections for most people so they will be taking UBER's or taxis.

Killing the Disney Spring station is still in my opinion a missed opportunity for Disney. Even though I would never use it from the airport to Universal I would have been interested to take it from the convention centre station to Disney Springs and so would a lot of others staying in the International Drive area I'm sure. This would also be extremely beneficial to locals and to help the traffic on the highway around Disney Springs. I do think lots of people would have been interested to take the train between the two resorts just not the airport part. A link to port Canaveral from the airport would just be genius though and I would totally use that!

June 29, 2022 at 2:10 PM

If someone wants to take the train from I-Drive to Springs they should be prepared to pay to park their car at the station.

Parking at Disney Springs is free.

June 29, 2022 at 2:30 PM

O-Resident: "It’s no secret that Disney wants to take up the entire vacation time, and wants to make it logistically difficult for anyone who flys into MCO to travel anywhere except Disney."

Me: If that was the company's obsession, they could just bring back Magical Express.

June 29, 2022 at 2:32 PM

That was the purpose of Magical Express, but now with Uber/Lyft/instacart/doordash/postmates etc Magical Express no longer served its intended purpose for WDW.

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