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

The long-anticipated transfer of SunRail’s ownership from the Florida Department of Transportation to five local-government partners will probably not occur next year, after all.

Under the timetable in place for the past two years, the FDOT was supposed to hand off the commuter-rail system to the counties of Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola and the City of Orlando on June 30, 2024.

“It won’t be then,” Assistant Osceola County Manager Tawny Olore said at the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission’s March 23 meeting in Orlando.

The key reason for the delay is the inability to finish the segment of SunRail extending north from DeBary to DeLand in time. 

Work has recently begun to lay the portions of double-tracking needed and make at-grade crossings with roads intersecting the rail corridor. The FDOT last year awarded a $34.2 million contract for the work to the Herzog company, and work has begun to make the DeLand train station the north terminus of the commuter-rail line, but Olore said the FDOT and the SunRail partners are now looking at a “May or June, [2024] completion” of the final segment of SunRail.

Known officially as Phase 2 North, the 12-mile stretch of SunRail in the CSX area rail corridor between DeBary and DeLand has been the last portion of the original system to be added to the regional transit system, which is to be 61 miles in length between DeLand and Poinciana in Osceola County. 

Although the DeBary-to-DeLand segment will probably not be finished before summer 2024, Olore said the FDOT and officials of the CFCRC are continuing to work on a transition agreement.

In addition, WSP, a consulting firm hired by the CFCRC to assist with the transfer of ownership and operation of SunRail, is continuing its work. The commission agreed to pay $1 million to WSP for its services in planning for the transition.

After the extension of the system to DeLand is complete, the FDOT will continue to operate SunRail to make certain everything — trains, tracks, signals, schedules and other daily operations, such as bus service to and from SunRail depots — is working well before turning SunRail over to the locals to own and manage.

“You’ve got to have a debugging period,” Olore said.

The length of the trial operating period of the completed original commuter-rail line has not been set, although officials have said it should probably be at least six months.

Once the FDOT hands off SunRail to the five local partners, those partners will become responsible for paying the operating costs of the system. Those costs include covering SunRail’s deficits.

For the 2022-23 fiscal year, SunRail’s budget projects $80.7 million in expenses and $41.4 million in revenues — leaving a shortfall of more than $39 million.

Currently, the FDOT is paying all of the local costs of operating and maintaining SunRail.

If or when the FDOT relinquishes ownership, the CFCRC will be the governing entity. The commission now is working to arrange for Lynx, the bus system serving the Greater Orlando area, to become the operating agency for SunRail.

SunRail began regular weekday operations May 1, 2014. The FDOT was supposed to operate SunRail for seven years and hand it over to the five local partners in 2021, but that end date came and went. The pandemic did not help in moving the transition forward, as ridership dropped during the lockdowns of businesses.


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