A planned passenger rail link between Orlando and Tampa got a big boost Thursday. Universal Orlando Resort has pledged $125 million in funding towards construction of an 11-mile rail corridor that is a critical link in private passenger rail operator Brightline’s plan to extend train service to Tampa.

The funding will come from the creation of a new special development district — the Shingle Creek Transit Utility Community Development District — that will issue bonds to support construction of the rail line through Orlando and a new station at the Orange County Convention Center, Universal said Thursday. The line, dubbed the “Sunshine Corridor” locally, would carry both Brightline trains through Orlando and local SunRail commuter trains between Orlando International Airport and a new South International Drive station near Disney’s parks.

A map of Orlando’s proposed Sunshine Corridor rail project. (Universal Orlando)

The Orlando Sentinel reported Thursday that the entire 11 mile rail line could cost as much as $1 billion, and that project leaders intend to seek funding from the federal government under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The line could open to passengers by the end of the decade.

In addition to the construction funds, Universal and other local businesses have committed to covering the operations and maintenance expenses of the planned Orange County Convention Center station, and guarantee at least $13 million in annual ticket sales to and from the station.

Brightline aims to begin rail service to Orlando from Miami later this year. Trains will stop a station connected to the airport’s new Terminal C that opened in September.

Brightline, which operates passenger trains between Miami and West Palm Beach in South Florida, opened two new stations — Aventura and Boca Raton — in December. The company carried 18 percent more passengers in November than it did in 2019 with revenues up 39 percent year-over-three-years to $3.4 million.

Tags: Brightline, trains, universal orlando