If all goes according to the latest schedule, regular weekday SunRail service to and from DeLand will begin in about two-and-a-half years.
Planned completion of the 61-mile SunRail system, as it was envisioned about 15 years ago, comes as the commuter-rail network celebrates its seventh anniversary — but without the DeLand stop that was key to its original design.
Details of the extension to DeLand were announced at the April 29 meeting of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission in Orlando.
“You have a very serious partner in Volusia County,” Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower told his fellow CFCRC members. “I want all of the partners to come to DeBary, come to DeLand.”
The partners are Volusia, Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, plus the City of Orlando.
The latest projected cost of completing SunRail is $44.9 million. This is on top of $1.5 billion already spent to provide weekday commuter-rail service between DeBary and Poinciana.
Ashraf Elmaghraby, the Florida Department of Transportation’s engineer for the project, said actual construction of the final segment of the original SunRail system will be assigned to two contractors yet to be selected later this year.
“These two contracts will go at the same time,” he told the CFCRC. “In February, we got the green light.”
Elmaghraby was referring to the FDOT’s February revision of the cost estimate for SunRail’s Phase 2 North. The capital costs are for additional tracks, road-crossing gates and signals, and construction of a SunRail depot next to the DeLand Amtrak station.
Under FDOT’s plan, the work will be divided between two design-build contractors. One company will lay the double tracks and build the DeLand SunRail station, while another installs railroad crossings with roadways and installs signals and communications.
The FDOT will advertise for bids in June, to be followed by a short-listing of prospective firms in August. Bids will be opened in November.
Contracts for the DeBary-to-DeLand SunRail segment will be awarded shortly afterward, according to the FDOT’s latest schedule. Actual construction may start in January 2022, with an anticipated completion in December 2023.
Testing of the new tracks with trains running on them will be performed before regular service begins.
The latest cost estimate, $44.9 million, is down sharply from the $90 million to $110 million mentioned in previous years. The estimate dropped because the FDOT applied a process known as value engineering.
Investopedia, a business publication that seeks “to simplify complex financial information,” defines value engineering as “a systematic, organized approach to providing necessary functions in a project at the lowest possible cost.”
One example of value engineering in SunRail’s Phase 2 North was a reduction in the number of miles of double tracking. Double tracks allow a busy train schedule, because northbound and southbound trains can run at the same time.
Before value engineering was applied, the plan included approximately 11.5 miles of parallel tracks between DeBary and DeLand, with a relatively short length of single track over a creek west of Orange City.
The new plan involves only about 6 miles of double tracking, resulting in cost savings.
Of that newly estimated $44.9 million outlay, Volusia County must pay 25 percent. The County Council has agreed to borrow as much as $11.3 million from the State Infrastructure Bank to pay its share.
Asked if the FDOT can keep the costs of finishing SunRail within the estimate, FDOT District 5 Secretary Jared Perdue replied, “We’ll go through a competitive process. All of our projects have a contingency.”
The contingency in this case is $5 million.
Volusia County Government Affairs Director John Booker said inflation-conscious officials will be watching.
“There is a lot of pressure on labor. Nobody will know until they open the bids,” Booker said.
While the DeLand extension progresses, so does a plan to transfer ownership of SunRail from the FDOT to the local partners.
The CFCRC has hired WSP, a national consulting firm, to formulate a plan for the state agency to hand off the rail system, and that transition plan is due for completion in July 2022.
The FDOT was supposed to relinquish ownership of SunRail on April 30 this year. Under the inter-local agreements establishing SunRail, the FDOT committed to operate and pay the costs of the system for the first seven years.
But in 2020, when local officials and transportation planners realized there was no plan for local ownership or control of the system, the FDOT agreed to extend its role as owner and financier, until a firm plan for the future of SunRail could be developed.
Accepting ownership of the system means the local partners will operate and maintain it, and cover the annual operating deficit, which currently is about $40 million.