Disney World Cancels Brightline Train Station
File this under least surprising news ever: Walt Disney World has cancelled plans for a Brightline high-speed rail station at Disney Springs. This post shares details about the derailment, why this was never intended to be the replacement for Disney’s Magical Express, and why none of this is the least bit surprising. (Updated June 28, 2022.)
Brightline signed signed a letter of intent with Walt Disney World nearly four years ago. At the time, Brightline had secured rights to issue $1.75 billion in tax-free bonds, and the 170-mile Central Florida corridor had 35 miles of new train right-of-way, built alongside the Beachline Expressway.
In November 2020, Walt Disney World revealed plans to significantly expand its transportation network by adding a Brightline train station at Disney Springs. The parties issued a joint announcement revealing that Brightline and Disney formalized plans and entered into an agreement on station construction.
“Brightline will offer a car-free connection to the millions of visitors from around the state and the world who plan to make Walt Disney World Resort part of their vacation plans,” said Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline. “Our mission has always been to connect our guests to the people and places that matter, and Walt Disney World Resort is a tremendous example of this.”
“We’re excited to work with Brightline as they pursue the potential development of a train station at Walt Disney World Resort, a project that would support our local economy and offer a bold, forward-looking transportation solution for our community and guests,” said Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort.
Given the number of high-speed rail project proposals that have come and gone over the years, we expressed skepticism at the news and a “we’ll believe it when we see it” attitude. As it turns out, we will not see it. At least, not at Walt Disney World.
A Walt Disney World representative confirmed to Orlando Business Journal that the company’s plans for an on-property station to connect to the multibillion-dollar Brightline project are no more.
“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,” Disney spokesperson Avery Maehrer told Orlando Business Journal.
June 28, 2022 UPDATE: Ben Porritt, Brightline’s senior vice president of corporate affairs, said the following in a statement to WPTV: “Late last year, we were asked by several community leaders to explore alternative alignments for our planned expansion from (Orlando International Airport) to Tampa.”
“The original plan called for a single station at Disney Springs. Along with a broad range of stakeholders, we have identified a solution now known as the Sunshine Corridor, which contemplates two new stations and integrates Brightline’s intercity service with SunRail, through an east-west expansion.”
“In addition to the airport, one new station will be located at the Orange County Convention Center and an alternative station will be placed near the original Disney Springs site, albeit not on land owned by Disney,” Porritt explained.
“Taken together, the three integrated stations provide access to the largest economic and employment centers in central Florida and offer the best opportunity for the success of Brightline and SunRail.”
“This concept was recently awarded a federal grant to assist in its advancement and as an indication of its potential to drive regional impact. We look forward to working with all key stakeholders on expanding smart mobility that connects Orlando to the rest of Florida.”
Brightline’s current route is expected to take it along State Road 528 and Taft-Vineland Road, through the International Drive corridor, and down Interstate 4. Back when Walt Disney World announced the station at Disney Springs, the planned route for the Brightline had the train heading down State Road 417 and bypassing the tourist corridor.
Representatives of I-Drive businesses plus Universal Orlando Resort, the Orange County Convention Center and even the City of Orlando all pushed for an alternative route for Brightline that would service more of the tourism corridor. These proponents argued that the route would be able to service many more theme parks, hotels, and related businesses in need of rail transportation to the airport.
In fact, Universal pledged to donate land and money for an Orange County Convention Center-area train station that would be used by Brightline and SunRail, the Central Florida commuter rail system. All of this eventually led to that proposal winning out over the State Road 417 proposal.
Once that happened, it was more or less a foregone conclusion that Walt Disney World would abandon its plans for a station. While it still would’ve been possible for Walt Disney World to have a station along the revised route, that apparently will not happen.
If we were cynical, we might surmise that Walt Disney World’s original motivation for being amenable to a high-speed rail project was because the Disney-endorsed route blocked out most of the tourist corridor.
The statement from the Walt Disney World representative that the “new route configuration does not support a Disney Springs station” is only partially true. It’s correct that the new route doesn’t support that exact station in that exact location. However, a station connecting to Walt Disney World still would be feasible with the new route.
With their preferred route that blocked off Universal, SeaWorld, and the tourist corridor no longer in play, it’s possible that Disney didn’t want to be part of the project. Maybe Disney no longer saw any upside with the modified route, or that they didn’t want to participate in a project that could help some of its captive audience venture to Universal and other theme parks. (Of course, Disney more or less conceded last year that the rise of ridesharing services eliminated that–it’s doubtful that a train route would really move the needle much further.)
In actuality, this isn’t just the cynical analysis. Rather, it’s the “history repeats itself” one. Pretty much this exact scenario has played out in the last two decades with past high-speed rail proposals. This “new” route has actually been proposed before, and it was actually Disney that got it modified with their proposal for a Disney Springs station back in late 2020.
Obviously, the big winner here is Universal. In a statement to the Orlando Sentinel, John McReynolds, senior vice president of external affairs at Universal Orlando, said rail transit will be critical for a swelling employment base.
“Universal in the next 24 months will be adding 14,000 new employees at Epic Universe,” McReynolds said. “That is going to take, when you get the indirect jobs that are going to be created, the I-Drive community to well over 100,000 jobs. When you add in the corridor out to the airport, you are now talking 130,000 to 140,000 jobs in one corridor.”
The underlying expectation is for major federal grants to finance much of that corridor. The Florida Department of Transportation along with several local partners all are working together to bring this project to fruition. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer applauded the wide political spectrum advancing the initiative, and said that partisan politics have not been an issue in pursuing this common goal.
The state DoT has taken the lead on SunRail’s behalf in coordinating and lobbying federal rail agencies for funding. To make a link happen, Universal and the International Drive community are offering ridership guarantees, backing financing bonds, and paying operational costs of an I-Drive station.
Brightline expects to start service from South Florida to Orlando International Airport by mid-2023. Brightline’s West Palm Beach to Orlando expansion is roughly 80% complete and expected to finish construction by the end of 2022.
To my knowledge, there is not yet a firm timeline for the Orlando to Tampa route. Previously, construction was not even slated to begin on the Disney Springs station until sometime in 2024. Presumably, the debate over routes has further delayed that timeline. So we’re probably looking at 2026–not long after Epic Universe opens–that the I-Drive station is greeting guests.
As a general rule, this blog refrains from indulging in the “Walt would be rolling in his grave” or “Walt would/not have wanted…” statements. In practice, it’s mostly a thinly-veiled way for fans to project their own likes or dislikes onto Walt in an attempt to give their own opinions more credibility. (For better or worse, the opinions here are my own. No need to give credit/blame to Walt for them!)
There’s also the simple fact that Walt Disney was a master marketer who carefully controlled and cultivated his image. While he was undoubtedly one of America’s great visionaries and innovators, his folksy status was likely at least in part manufactured. Also, he’s been dead for decades so it’s really impossible to say how his opinions would have evolved over time.
Two things we do know that Walt Disney loved are chili and trains. His passion for railroads is well documented, and his ambitions for a city of the future involved efficient mass transit. I’m not going to pretend to know what he’d think about this news, but it’s probably safe to say that Walt would’ve had a stronger opinion on these Brightline plans or the Walt Disney World Railroad being down for several years than he would about Genie+ or Starbucks on Main Street.
This is disappointing news, but we should remind yet again that the Brightline rail was never billed as a replacement for Disney’s Magical Express. (We’ve mentioned this several times, but claims by fans that Brightline is the “reason” Disney’s Magical Express ended keep coming up in the comments–despite that being demonstrably false.)
If the train were replacing the bus, it stands to reason that Disney’s Magical Express would not have ended ~4 years before the proposed/cancelled Brightline station at Walt Disney World actually went into service. There were also a range of practical reasons why Brightline was never intended as a DME replacement, from train frequency to transfers from Disney Springs to hotels.
The (bad) decision to end Disney’s Magical Express was made for other reasons, so don’t expect that airport shuttle to magically be restored now that the Brightline station is off the table.
While many fans focused on the “Disney’s Magical Express replacement” angle given the timing of the announcement of that airport shuttle service ending and the announcement that Disney Springs would get a Brightline station, the two were never really connected.
Rather, the benefit Walt Disney World, Universal, and other businesses in the tourist corridor saw from Brightline is connecting Orlando to Florida’s Gold Coast. Guests from South Florida are a growing demographic for Disney, and this high-speed rail would facilitate easier weekend getaways for them. (I can’t speak to whether it’s a growing demo for Universal, but I assume so; based on my highly-scientific count of Miami Heat jerseys in the parks, that would seem to be the case.)
The Brightline high-speed rail would also be beneficial for high-spending convention-goers to travel within the state. Those are the two big benefits of this from the perspective of the theme parks. It was never about replacing an airport shuttle bus. There were–and are–better ways to accomplish that.
Ironically, the one thing that could cause Walt Disney World to bring back free airport transportation (eventually) is increased competition from Universal Orlando Resort. In particular, if the many relatively new hotels Universal has built in the last decade offer better value for money, are easier to access, and offer on-site perks at Epic Universe that consumers find compelling.
As discussed at greater length in our 2022 D23 Expo Predictions, Walt Disney World cannot afford to lose overnight guests to Universal. Those are its most lucrative visitors, and if Universal is able to siphon some away–even just 10%–that’s a huge blow to Disney. With Universal offering more affordable accommodations and on-site perks for a brand new park, that’ll be a given come 2025. And a totally different dynamic from when the Wizarding World first debuted over a decade ago.
If Walt Disney World intends to have an unofficial answer to Epic Universe in an attempt to draw some attention away from that new park–and offer a compelling reason to stay on-site at Walt Disney World, the announcement essentially needs to be made now. Given Disney’s glacial pace of construction, any major additions for 2025 need to commence work in the very near future. With the Brightline route now serving Universal instead of Disney, there’s an even greater sense of urgency for Walt Disney World to compete with Universal’s third gate. Unfortunately, my expectations for Disney to actually do something are about the same as with the original Brightline proposal: I’ll believe it when I see it.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think about Walt Disney World cancelling plans to participate in the Brightline project? Hopeful that Disney will rethink the decision and push for a station somewhere other than Disney Springs? Disappointed about the relocated route? Or, do you think it makes more sense for the high-speed rail to connect to the tourism corridor? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
For the first time in our twenty visits over the last 25 years to Walt Disney World, we stayed onsight at Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort instead of on-site at WDW. We went to the Universal parks three days and to Disney parks three days. Their family suites there were cheaper and there are no longer any benefits for our family to stay onsite at Disney nor renew our annual passes. We did miss the “Disney Bubble” but by raising their prices while at the same time, reducing the perks and benefits of staying onsite and purchasing annual passes, when we return for our next trip we will stay either insight at Universal again, or offsite.
I am SO SO SO sad at this news! I live in Miami and was so looking forward to getting up to Disney more often with the train for shorter trips. The 4-5 hour drive (depending on traffic) is a real pain. Sitting in a train cabin having a nap, working, or just mindlessly staring out the window for 4 hours would have made late Friday night/ late Sunday night trips more viable. I cannot emphasize enough how upset and disappointed I am at this news.
While certainly not as convenient, you could still take the train to the I-Drive station (or whatever its called, I’m not super familiar with Orlando geography) and then Uber/Lyft to Disney for the last leg of the trip. This news is annoying and short-sighted but I think the Brightline rail plan would still have utility for your purposes.
What would be the logistics for bringing back DME? Mears is still in the travel business, so I don’t think they’d have to announce it now to have it in place by 2025. Don’t get me wrong, I think even if a recession happens WDW is more likely to reduce spending then offer discounts, instead of offering increased services. I just happen to think it’s the right move in regards to EU, barring a fantasy list of construction projects that aren’t coming.
Not to sound bitter, but good. Disney needs a kick in the pants I think. Too long have they been able to basically do whatever they want and get away with it. As you have mentioned numerous times, this has given them a perception of invincibility. That has caused the guest experience to suffer greatly IMO. I hope Universal does siphon off a significant portion of their guests, and it forces them to actually adjust.
Good riddance, Brightline is the most dangerous railroad in the USA by far. It has fatal crashes on a regular basis because they have 100’s of grade crossings unlike most of their peers.
So it’s Brightline’s fault that drivers decide to play chicken with a train? If the crossings are unmarked then that’s one thing (I’m still not sure if that’s Brightline’s fault, seems like the fault would lie with Florida DOT in that case)….but if the crossing are properly marked, have flashing lights, “do not cross” arms that deploy, etc…..well, that’s just Darwinism in action and wouldn’t be Brightline’s fault.
Disney’s loss. I’m a Fort Lauderdale resident who regularly rides Brightline’s current route between Miami & W Palm. The high-speed train is a viable, attractive transportation alternative. Many Gold Coasters are anxiously awaiting the expansion to Orlando. The trains are built for the longer routes. I for one look forward to leaving my car and the mind numbing drive up the turnpike behind & riding to Orlando in comfort & style on Brightline. If Disney doesn’t want my business, I’ll gladly visit & support Universal resorts
So many Disney fans look at this from the perspective of airport transportation to Walt Disney World, but that small stretch/use case was never the selling point of this service. Rather, it’s people like YOU–the growing guest demographic from South Florida–that make this attractive to the theme park operators.
There is corridor between Cleveland,Cincinnati and Columbus that has been proposed for at least 50 years, probably longer. Cincy and Cleve. used to be large cities with special events and great shopping. Columbus was the capital, smaller but important for business. Everyone wanted to travel quickly between the three. But now Cleveland and Cincinnati are much smaller than Columbus and the prestige of the Great Lakes and River cities has fallen. Not so many people still need that train and we have lived so long without them that I think that ship has sailed. I feel this about the Orlando train thing too. The time has gone by.
No surprise. Disney can’t even get a train to run in a circle around the MK.
Funny comment about MK not be able to get the train running . Walt loved trains and I think he would be disappointed that train isn’t up and running . It was painfully slow but so relaxing to just jump on when you’re feet were exhausted. Guess expansion was needed and was in the way of the train .
It’s been way cheaper to stay at Universal Orlando the last 4 trips and just hop to WDW the days we want to, we get a 1 bedroom with 3 queen beds that sleeps 6 with a kitchenette and table, for $158 a night. With no real benefit to stay at WDW anymore we’d rather spend our money on extras.
WDW-area competition lobby funneled this away from a practical destination?
This is why America cannot have nice things…
I just don’t get Disney’s thinking. I used to have blind trust in them that they knew what they were doing. Even when Maelstrom was announced to become a Frozen ride I trusted Disney. I understand why they were doing it. And now having a little princess myself I appreciate it for my daughter’s sake. I choose her joy over my nostalgia. But now many decisions don’t even make sense to a novice businessperson. Wouldn’t Disney want a transportation solution for the hundreds of thousands of guests coming from the airport to WDW? That isn’t even a gamble or projection they would have to make. It is a FACT that people are going to and from the airport. I think Disney should have just started charging for Magical Express. Of course the haters would have griped at first but just like Genie+ and the resort parking fee we all would have paid for it in the end. It is literally money to be had by Disney. Maybe they did the math and it wasn’t going to be lucrative enough for them? I don’t know. But if I may digress — so far every money-grabbing scheme Disney has pulled has worked on our family. We do Genie+, Individual Lightening Lanes, stay Deluxe or DVC rooms solely for those two precious late night hours on a Monday and Wednesday, etc. WDW is busting at the seams. People are flooding there in droves. As an out-of-state AP holder I live for Disney. Maybe the local AP holders just don’t understand us. We live far from Disney. Nothing locally has Disney magic. Yea a trip to the lake or the museum or aquarium is fun but good Lord that is nothing compared to the feeling of a parent seeing their daughter’s face when she finally rides Slinky Dog Dash after talking about it for months or having Ariel wave to her from a parade float as she herself is dressed like Ariel in her stroller. Our Disney trips regularly cost us ~$6,000/trip and we go about four times a year for eight nights each time. In summation, what else are we supposed to spend our hard-earned money on? Nothing compares.
What else ? We’re also out of State AP holders and have been for many years (although that May now slow down due to their crazy woke antics) but we also took our kids to Europe (3week long train trips ) multiple times; Caribbean, cruises, Hawaii, Japan, Iceland, Galapagos, Mexico, Canada, Israel, South America and our beautiful and diverse National Parks. Plan a trip to the Olympics , or Yellowstone , or Antarctica or the Galápagos with your kids and you’ll see what compares and they’ll learn about the world too!
I myself love Disney just as you do. I have not been as often as you, but I bet I have been 15 times in the past 8-9 years. But I also think we are part of the problem. As you said, we spend the money no matter what they do.
Disney is busting at the seams & you take four 8-day trips a year…do you see the cause & effect here?
Oh I absolutely understand the cause and effect. Because I keep paying it Disney keeps thinking of more ways to get it from me. I absolutely am part of “the problem”. But to dig a little deeper I have to admit that a lot of it has to do with how much Disney means to me because of how much it meant to my Dad. He is now gone and never even got to meet any grandkids. I feel closer to him every time I’m there. It really is like I am going home. And taking my daughter there gives me this sense that my dad and daughter are connected. But truthfully he would be so hurt by everything Disney is doing. My parents were meager teachers at a rural school but still took us to Disney as much as six times per year which included two weeks every July. Now lots of times we stayed on 192 and we always drove a car down to Florida. But there is no way my parents could afford anything close to that many trips raising two kids nowadays. As for other vacation options — I’ve done a lot of traveling myself but Covid hampered some Europe and cruise plans for our family. Now our daughter just turned six. I’m thinking of a big trip out West to National Parks next year and I want to do Europe with her. We will definitely be going and seeing the world but I can’t say that anything will ever measure up to Disney because of the memories with my Dad. I am sorry if me not boycotting Disney is driving prices up for others. But it is my choice and I have to live my life how I want while I’m alive. Nothing but love to others. And for the record, I do think Walt and Roy would be heartbroken.
Your correct! Only way you will get more from Disney is when Universal is taking market share and they will have to start giving the things they have taken away the last 4-5 years back!!!
Florida is notorious for planning high speed rail and it never quite meeting the expectations. Disney may have pulled out for many reasons among them not wanting to be part of the chaos. Maybe the BriteLine will be all it promises but likely not.
Anyway, approaching WDW by car or motorcoach is an experience in itself. The anticipation builds no matter how many times you have gone there. And there is no way to describe the excitement when the WDW arch appears ahead. It is not a theme park. It is a world of enchantment that brings a disconnect from the stresses and problems of everyday life. If the Briteline could not deliver that emotional impact, it should not be part of the Disney experience. That was Walt’s vision with Disneyland and his expanded vision for WDW.
Excellent point. I think this is a smart move by Disney.
Believe you me, taking a train from London and arriving right in the middle of the Disney Village (DLP’s version of Disney Springs), the Studios and a few steps from the Disneyland Hotel and Disneyland Paris is far more magical than any car trip. And then they whisk your luggage to the hotel while you head to the parks, or bring your luggage to the train station from the hotel where you can then board the train and eat a 3 course meal with a bottle of champagne, beats driving every time.
I’m dying to visit Disneyland Paris one of these years when Covid isn’t so scary and you can fly home with no worries of positive Covid tests and pilot and labor shortages .
Good article. I have said from day one this was not a viable transportation plan for the masses. That being said. Disney may actually need to bring back DME to “capture” their audience. I have said, Universal is breathing down their necks. And honestly, Disney does not have the rides or ride numbers to compete. And taking 4 years! to build one ride, while keeping another closed, doesn’t get it done. Not to leave out, all the price increases and additional costs being added almost daily. Disney needs to seriously look at their business model. Heck! Even in the system. WDW has been getting the short end when it comes to Rides, Attractions, even food! When compared to the other Disney Resorts! They need to step up now! Universal ain’t waiting on them!
I think Disney is mainly interested in transfers from the airport directly to its Resorts, but now they’re without Magical Express.
The north I-Drive to Universal area is reviving fast. Universal is coming across as well-financed, smart, and fast, with considerably better affordable hotels.
If Brightline gets its rail corridor to Tampa, that might be a big boost to Universal. I-4 has become miserable..
I’m not surprised by this at all. I stated publicly in a number of places when this was announced and everyone got all giddy about this, “I’ll believe this when I actually see construction of the station and even then not until it’s operational.” Why….because how many blue sky concepts have gotten announced by Disney….concepts that made a hell of a lot more sense than this train station? As time went on and we’ve heard absolutely nothing about this made me even more comfortable with my doubts. I guess my doubts were spot on.
Disney is acting like a petulant child. They’re used to using their muscles to get what they want here. Now that the route will benefit other businesses and local workers, they’re pulling out.
Isn’t pricing on this rather expensive? So something guests would use to/from the airport, not skipping between UOR and WDW.
I doubt it would be cost prohibitive–tickets for the current legs are $10-$15 on the low end, and that’s for a lot longer routes.
The reason people wouldn’t use this to go between UOR and WDW is the time and transfers it would entail. For an average family, Uber/Lyft would still almost certainly win out.
I suspect it mostly comes down to Disney’s cost/benefit calculus involving denying access from the airport to other theme parks. With that off the table, the project probably was not as attractive for WDW.
i’ not at all surprised. regardless of the pandemic, when this was announced, i thought then that the window was far too long adn that a hundred things could “derail” this plan. color me shocked.
sorry for the typos, i tend to hit submit too soon.
Stupid abd short-sighted but then lately that’s Disney.