A veritable Who’s Who in Volusia County showed up May 22 at the DeBary SunRail depot for a short ride to the future north end of the commuter-rail system and a ceremonial groundbreaking for the DeLand station.
After years of promises and waiting, the coming extension of SunRail to DeLand and the completion of the regional rail system as it was originally planned, the Florida Department of Transportation hosted a celebration of the work now underway.
“We want to bring people to DeBary. We want to bring people to DeLand,” Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower said. “Let’s all get on board.”
If all goes according to the latest timetable, regular weekday service of SunRail trains in the corridor beginning at DeLand and ending at Poinciana in Osceola County will be available to West Volusia commuters in mid-2024.
“All of us together have worked very hard to get to this point,” Florida Department of Transportation District 5 Secretary John Tyler told the crowd.
When completed next year, the DeLand SunRail Station will be the 17th stop in the 61-mile rail route that serves four counties — Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola — and Orlando.
“It’s really going to help connect DeLand and the rest of the area,” Florida Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue said.
Before Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to head all of the Sunshine State’s transportation matters, Perdue was the secretary of FDOT District 5 headquartered in DeLand.
SunRail began operating between DeBary and the Sand Lake Road Station in south Orlando May 1, 2014. That part of the system was known as Phase 1. For planning purposes, Phase 2 was broken down into two segments: the piece between Sand Lake Road and Poinciana and the piece between DeBary and DeLand.
The southward piece was completed and began operating a few years later, but the portion between DeBary and DeLand remained as a promise yet to be fulfilled. Finding the funding to finish the DeLand extension was a daunting task, as the costs of construction mounted.
Besides laying 12 miles of a parallel track to enable northbound and southbound trains to run simultaneously during rush hours, there were also at-grade crossings with city streets and roads; building a SunRail station separate from the DeLand Amtrak depot; and adding a new federally mandated safety system known as Positive Train Control. With all the increases, the projected cost of adding the promised service to DeLand was as high as $120 million. Volusia County’s share of that cost was to be one fourth, or about $30 million.
As the efforts to complete the original piece of SunRail languished, FDOT’s planners and engineers resorted to a process known as “value engineering.”
Value engineering involves devising new ways to accomplish a task at a lower cost, such as not having double tracking through the entire 12-mile stretch, but allowing trains traveling in opposite directions during the busiest times to use portions of the same track at different intervals. Making economies here and there in the project whittled down the price to about $34 million — a marked decrease from the earlier estimates.
The FDOT ultimately awarded a contract to Herzog Contracting Corp. for the DeLand depot and extension from DeBary.
“About a year from now, we’re going to be celebrating the opening of service [from DeLand],” Tyler promised those gathered.
The FDOT now owns and operates SunRail. The state agency applies for federal grants to pay some of the costs of operating the system. However, the FDOT has expressed its desire to hand SunRail over to the five local partners, as represented in the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission. The CFCRC has hired a consultant to draft a plan for the transition of ownership. That plan is supposed to be completed this year.