debary sunrail station
A SunRail train pulls into the DeBary station.

Even though the last leg of the original plan for a regional commuter-rail system is still more than a year away from completion — and years behind — there comes word of a possible extension of SunRail to Polk County.

Years after the 12-mile piece of SunRail between DeBary and DeLand was supposed to have been finished, the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission Jan. 26 learned Polk County may become part of the SunRail system. The Polk County Transportation Planning Organization, according to a Florida Department of Transportation official, had asked about “the feasibility of extending SunRail to Polk County to relieve traffic on I-4.”

“We’re looking at economic development,” Nicole Mills, the intermodal systems administrator for the state agency’s District 1, told the CFCRC in Orlando.

Mills said there is a study, known as a Transit Concepts Alternatives Review, underway to determine the costs and benefits of adding Polk County to the SunRail network. The report on the study is due in August, she added, and the TPO will probably vote on it at that time.

If Polk County becomes part of the SunRail system, Mills said, the trains may serve Lakeland and smaller cities along the I-4 corridor such as Lake Alfred.

“I remember Lakeland fighting us tooth and nail against SunRail,” CFCRC Chair and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.

“Lakeland is no longer fighting you,” Mills said.

For his part, Dyer said he remains interested in extending SunRail eastward.

“SunRail to the [Orlando International] Airport is the most important thing on my agenda,” he told his colleagues and the audience.

Adding commuter-rail service to OIA, sometimes referred to as SunRail Phase 3, has an estimated cost of $250 million.

“If we are going to survive, we’re going to have to expand,” CFCRC Vice Chair and Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari said.

The completion of the DeLand piece of SunRail, including some double tracking and the construction of a SunRail depot next to the Amtrak station, is set for late in 2023 or early 2024. The FDOT, which now owns and operates SunRail, is supposed to hand off the system to the five local funding partners on June 30, 2024. Those five partners are the counties of Osceola, Orange, Seminole and Volusia and the City of Orlando. The five local jurisdictions maintain representation on the CFCRC. 

Meanwhile, the plan for the transition from state ownership and control of SunRail to the local partners is a work in progress. As the future owner of the commuter-rail system, the rail commission is poised to enter into negotiations and a contract with Lynx, Greater Orlando’s transit agency, to operate SunRail.

The CFCRC will convene for a workshop on the transition at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at the Lynx Central Station in Orlando. The meeting is open to the public.

In other business Jan. 26, the CFCRC chose Osceola County Commissioner Viviana Janer as chair for 2023. Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower was chosen as vice chair of the rail commission, and Dallari was named secretary.

Brower did not attend the meeting, but freshman County Council Member at Large Jake Johansson represented Volusia County.


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