Railroad Romance

By Randy Noles

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One of the most evocative railroad songs of the 20th century was written in the early 1970s by Guy Clark. Texas 1947 describes as vividly as any newspaper account the excitement and awe generated by the advent of diesel locomotives. In Clark’s song, “50 or 60 people, all sittin’ on their cars” are waiting for one of the newfangled trains to pass through so they can have a look at what progress has wrought.

The train speeds past without even stopping, but leaves speechless spectators “wonderin’ what we’re comin’ to and how it got this far.”

I thought about that song recently at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the beautiful new Amtrak/SunRail station, located behind Central Park in the heart of downtown Winter Park.

A SunRail train was parked at the station for those who wanted an advance look, although many of us had seen it already during its frequent test runs. Still, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who got goosebumps while walking through this sleek, shiny symbol of the region’s transportation future.

April 30 is when SunRail begins ferrying passengers along its 61-mile route, which runs south from Deltona in Volusia County through Seminole County and all the way down to Sand Lake Road in Orange County. Downtown Winter Park is one of 16 stops along Phase 1 of the project.

“Isn’t this indeed a special day — not just a special day in Winter Park, but a special day in our entire region,” said Mayor Ken Bradley. “I would even go so far as to say a special day in our country.”

Trains have a way of inspiring hyperbole, but Bradley wasn’t too far off the mark. I even thought Rep. John Mica (R-Winter Park), who for years fought valiantly for SunRail funding, got a little choked up toward the end of his remarks referencing the long, sometimes contentious history of light rail in Central Florida.

No one could have blamed him if he’d blubbered like a brand-new dad.

Of the 16 stops, I expect Winter Park will be the most popular. Visitors to the attractions area — and others who may have heard that it’s sometimes tough to find parking along Park Avenue — can now be whisked right to the epicenter of the region’s most exciting and eclectic shopping and dining destination, no vehicle required.

And the station itself is destined to become an iconic Winter Park building. ACi Inc., a local architecture firm, designed the 2,400-square-foot, Craftsman-style structure. The detailing is superb, from the polished wood on the inside to the peacock weather vane atop the roof. It’s an architectural jewel in a city boasting an abundance of architectural jewels.

The centerpiece, though, is an extraordinary stained-glass representation of the city seal by artist Ruth Attaway. The massive work is an homage to Louis Comfort Tiffany, whose creations are on display at the nearby Morse Museum of American Art. Tiffany himself could not have improved on this masterwork.

“There isn’t a better example of where SunRail should run than in Winter Park,” said Orange County Mayor Theresa Jacobs. “It’s not just SunRail — it’s places like this, that are meeting places for the community.”

Maybe there was a songwriter among the several hundred who assembled for the ceremony. If so, then maybe Texas 1947 will get a modern makeover. How about Winter Park 2014?

Randy Noles



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