110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Aug 15, 2014 - 11:45:02am
When SunRail service began in May, the demand for it surprised even Florida Department of Transportation officials who had anticipated good ridership.
Now, those officials and riders are hopeful about expanding SunRail service to weekends and later at night.
"We're working out the costs," District 5 DOT Secretary Noranne Downs said Aug. 8.
She wasn't ready to offer cost estimates, but will likely have them when she updates the Volusia County Council on SunRail Thursday, Oct. 2.
Average daily boardings on SunRail were 4,271 during the first six weeks of paid service, kicking off ridership almost where planners hoped ridership might be by the end of the year: 4,300 daily boardings.
The numbers show not just commuters are using SunRail, but leisure travelers.
Winter Park, Church Street, DeBary and Sand Lake Road stations have had the highest numbers of boardings, indicating people are boarding the trains from the north (DeBary, which had more than 12,000 boardings in June) and from the south (Sand Lake Road) to travel.
The most popular destination? Winter Park, which indicates a lot of leisure travel, to the delight of Winter Park restaurant and shop owners.
The petition notes that it "is essential for people who do not work a traditional Monday to Friday schedule, including hospital personnel, public-safety workers, hospitality workers, and airport and airline staffers, to name a few," and "is a lifesaver for resident senior citizens who do not drive, or those who should not drive a long distance."
SunRail is great for businesses, including cultural and social venues, the petition states.
The Park Avenue Merchants Association is promoting visits via SunRail, with summer-long discounts at participating businesses that offset the cost of SunRail tickets. Promotions include free admission to the Morse Museum of American Art, free appetizers at a restaurant, and a $50 discount at a jeweler. Visit experienceparkavenue.com/sunrail for more information.
Downs said Central Floridians enjoy day trips, and they will use SunRail service to visit DeLand, when that station opens in 2016, in Phase II.
She also envisions travelers and tourists using the trains to get around Central Florida and to airports, along with bike-trail enthusiasts who will bring their bicycles aboard.
Both Downs and sunrailriders.com speak of the Tri-Rail commuter line serving Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. It began with weekday commuter service in 1989, and expanded to seven days a week within a year.
Downs said she pictures trolleys like the ones that transport visitors around historic St. Augustine shuttling people from the DeLand station to Downtown DeLand and back.
Many in DeLand have asked whether a spur already in place could be used to run from the station on Old New York Avenue, west of town, to Downtown DeLand.
It's possible, Downs said. It all boils down to money and who will pay for it, she said.
Public transportation — whether roads, buses, airports or trains — survives through subsidies. Passenger fees cover only about 25 percent of the cost of SunRail.
SunRail revenues from riders is increasing — from $176,172 in May to $205,217 in July. Revenues Aug. 1-Aug. 11 totaled $60,211. Total revenues as of Aug. 11 amounted to $636,787.
The $1.3 billion to build SunRail came from a federal, state and local partnership. Half came from the Federal Transit Administration, 25 percent from the state, and 25 percent from the counties of Volusia, Osceola, Orange and Seminole, and the City of Orlando.
The FDOT will cover $137 million over the next seven years to maintain the lines. After that, it will be up to local governments to pay the costs.
Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen has already told the County Council he's worried about the county's $88 million obligation to operate SunRail over the next 25 years.
Along with working up estimates for expanded night and weekend service, FDOT is preparing estimates for extending service to Daytona Beach in a future phase.
FDOT is also estimating the cost of expanding the cost of expanding SunRail to Orlando International Airport, an 5.5-mile expansion that is already being called "Phase III."
An expansion to Daytona Beach International Airport would be more costly, with 25-30 miles of new track, engineering, right of way and other costs involved. A $2 million feasibility study is beginning.
The 11-mile extension from the DeBary station north to the DeLand Amtrak station on existing track is in the preliminary engineering phase.
Planned improvements include a new signal system, a platform, a canopy and a park-and-ride lot at the DeLand station, as well as upgrades to track infrastructure and improvements at several grade crossings.
Meanwhile, Downs said, SunRail is continuing to improve the service. Some examples: Bugs are gone from the ticket machines, and the timing of crossing arms at intersections is better synchronized.
More safety improvements are planned, possibly including pedestrian gates. The FDOT is focusing on grade-crossing enforcement, working with community law-enforcement officers.
Oh, and the trains are running on time.
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