SunRail Pulls Out and Away From Metro Jacksonville

May 2, 2014 30 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Going to report on the Sunrail opening, Robert Mann gets more than he bargained for. A grandson rings in the new era with the Mayor of Debary, and a Sunrail official leaves him crying on the platform.

I’ve heard the yarn about the peculiar salesman that rode in a Pullman Bedroom on the Atlantic Coast Line/Florida East Coast Champion bound from New York to Miami. The salesman gave particular instructions for the porter to wake him up with a cup of hot coffee in time to get off for an important meeting in Jacksonville. He told the porter that this was a matter of life and death, but to bear with him, as he had been known to swing a fist at people waking him up. The porter made his promise and the next morning the man lifted the shade from the window and saw a sign that read "Daytona Beach!" Talk about a wild man... this guy beat the porter to a pulp, kicked out windows and dumped half of the dining car. The conductor finally got the situation under control and explained the railroad would compensate him for his loss. When the man detrained to return to Jacksonville, the porter nursing his wounds asked another porter, “Man, have you ever seen anybody as mad as that man?” The other reporter said, “Only once, and he was madder than him.” The first porter asked, "Who was it?" The second answered, “The man I put off the train this morning in Jacksonville.” Well friends, I’ve finally met a railroader madder than the legendary gentlemen in this story.

Florida's mass transit continues to stumble. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA), Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and SunRail are no different. There should be more to this story, lots more, even additional pictures. Yet in the spotlight of the media, SunRail unapologetically wrecked our story. In fact, we got derailed in Debary with public relations from hell... by the name of “Steve."  Indeed, many people watched a little boy cry and left the station platform shaking their heads.

Two days ago I called SunRail and explained I was with 'media' and requested information and permission to ride the first train. The operator told me they had sent tickets to all dignitaries and the media but not to worry, just get there early and I'd be welcomed aboard. We arrived at the Debary station all right. As you probably know, I have to have a driver so I got permission for my wife and my grandson as well as myself.
Only media was allowed on the platforms. I got some good shots of the first train. Next, the Mayor of Debary saw that my 6-year-old mini-me was the only child there and called him to the "station bell." Lil' Robert was the first person to "ring in SunRail" as the train arrived from Sanford. Cameras clicked and buzzed and no less than seven to eight news outlets covered the holy moment. The conductor posed at train side with the train and again with the little guy.

When the "Alllllll aboard" sounded, we got into line and walked to the open car door, at the door 'Steve' the SunRail manager for the day’s operation asked me where the tickets were. I explained the whole story, as Little Robert was ready to jump onto the train. "I don't have room for you," he said. "Anyway, you need a ticket to ride." Frustrated, I explained in more detail the phone call and how I got up a 5:30 to get there early. "This isn't a public train, this is only for dignitaries." Getting a bit pissed, I asked him why the other media was allowed on? "Well they all have tickets; they were invited." With this, he turned and the train started rolling toward Sanford.

Determined to plead the case one more time, for Little Robert's sake as much as for Metro Jacksonville’s readers, I called SunRail in the central office in downtown and talked to "Ann." Ann was shocked. Stunned would be a better term: "I can't believe he did that." I told her, "Yeah, considering he had all of 120 empty seats." "Let me connect you with Tasha, the manager apparent," she said. Tasha was also in disbelief and met us at Church Street Station.  Before the train came in she said, "I'm texting Steve now and hopefully he changes his mind by the time the train gets here." We waited and we waited, finally just before train time I asked her what the word was. She said that Steve wouldn't answer her text so she would talk with him when he got off.

More speeches with the Mayor of Orlando proclaiming this day "Sunrail Day."  FDOT, SunRail, CSX and every politico and would-be politico was patting themselves on their collective backs.

Finally, with bell ringing and crowds pressing the fences the train rolled in, in push mode. Tasha wanted to speak to Steve, but Steve "was busy" and never stepped near the door. Great job, boys, a train without a heart or soul.   As the train pulled out I grabbed a ham and cheese, a rich, buttery decadent memory from the train from hell.
Funny how you can hobble down to report the news only to become the news yourself. The News-Journal has the story too. So MJ reader, you ever seen somethin' like this before? Hell, in all of my years of transportation, I've never even heard of something like this. Great job FDOT, nice job FTA, wonderful FRA, amazing CSX. Why Orlando, does this mean we're not friends anymore? You know Orlando, if I thought you weren't my friend... I just don't think I could bear it! I'm filing my report...and hell's coming with me, you hear?

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