The state agency and the consulting firm working to transfer ownership and control of SunRail to the five local partners — including Volusia County — now say the long-awaited change will occur June 30, 2024.
Daily service between DeLand and points south is supposed to begin in the early months of that year.
Moreover, LYNX, the agency that runs buses in the Greater Orlando area, may become the operator of SunRail.
Even though more miles of track are yet to be laid between DeBary and DeLand, and a depot is to be built at SunRail’s northern endpoint, planners told the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission in Orlando June 27 that the transition is moving ahead.
“We will be completing the financial analysis,” WSP Assistant Vice President Alan Danaher told the panel. “Our intent is to have a draft transition plan in September.”
The CFCRC may vote on the transition plan in November.
WSP is the consulting firm hired by the CFCRC to develop the transition plan.
That plan will lay out the Florida Department of Transportation’s transfer of ownership of the 61-mile commuter-rail system to the five local partners. The FDOT was originally supposed to hand over SunRail to the locals — Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties, and the City of Orlando — on May 1, 2021, but that date came and passed without having a transition plan in place. The FDOT continues to own, operate and cover the costs of SunRail.
SunRail incurs an annual operating deficit of about $40 million, and once the FDOT transfers the system to the five future owners, the deficit will become their responsibility.
Information presented to the commission indicated having LYNX as the operator of SunRail would be the least expensive option, as LYNX already has much of the contractual administration and personnel in place to manage the railway. The CFCRC would remain as the owner and governing board. WSP estimates the annual cost of this option would be almost $54 million, and Volusia’s share of the expense would be about $5 million to $6 million.
The other, more-costly options — estimated as high as $64 million during the first year in 2025 — for local ownership of SunRail would be for the CFCRC itself to operate the railway, building its own facilities and hiring all of its own administrative, operating and maintenance personnel. Or, the CFCRC could hire administrative staff and contract for engineers, conductors, mechanics and maintenance staffers.
Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower favored the idea of having the CFCRC contract with an outside agency as the least expensive, but wondered if LYNX is the best choice.
“My fear is it kind of removes Volusia from the discussion,” Brower said.
LYNX does not cover Volusia County, serving Osceola, Orange and Seminole counties. Volusia County has its own bus system, known as Votran.
More information may be forthcoming at the CFCRC’s next meeting, on Aug. 4.
Meanwhile, SunRail CEO Mike Heffinger said the completion of the original SunRail system to include the segment between DeBary and DeLand is nearing a start. A ceremonial groundbreaking may take place this fall.
The FDOT has already awarded the design-build contract for the capital project.
“We signed a $34.2 million contract with Herzog [Contracting Corp.], and we’re expecting it will come in at $34.2 million,” Heffinger said.
Herzog was the lowest of four bidders for the contract to finish the SunRail system, as originally intended. The state purchased the CSX rail corridor between Poinciana in Osceola County and DeLand for use by SunRail.
As for possible cost overruns on the DeLand extension, Heffinger said the FDOT may cover those expenses, as well. The Volusia County Council took out a loan of $11 million from the State Infrastructure Bank to pay its share of the cost of completing SunRail.