Central Florida is scheduled to welcome commuter rail, thanks to years of diligent effort and enduring hope.
The road wasn't easy, but the track is now set. SunRail is poised to become Central Florida reality.
The Florida Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the federal government and local officials in Orange, Seminole, Volusia and Osceola counties as well as the city of Orlando will build SunRail — a commuter rail transit project that will run along a 61-mile stretch of existing freight rail tracks in the four-county area. The 31-mile first phase of SunRail will serve 12 stations, linking DeBary to Orlando. Phase II will serve five additional stations, north to DeLand and south to Poinciana. Service is expected to begin in late 2013 or early 2014.
Following seemingly nonstop negotiations and numerous delays, Gov. Rick Scott made the project official on July 1, when he signed the Full Funding Grant Agreement.
The cost: an estimated $615 million in capital expenditures. The federal government has agreed to pay 50 percent of those costs, while state and local governments will each pay 25 percent. Also, the state will pay all operation and maintenance costs for the first seven years of operation, before local governments assume that funding commitment.
If no detours emerge unexpectedly, Central Florida will meet commuter rail. Finally.
1989 - Local discussion begins about commuter rail, which becomes SunRail 22 years later.
August 2006 - The Florida Department of Transportation announces an agreement in principle with CSX Transportation to buy 61.5 miles of freight track through Central Florida.
Summer 2007 - Elected officials in Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Volusia counties as well as the city of Orlando unanimously agree to finance the local share of the commuter rail system. Their votes allow the FDOT to move ahead with project design and planning.
August 2007 - Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer is unanimously elected chairman of the new Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission board of governors. The commission will serve as advisor to the FDOT during the first seven years of commuter rail’s operation and then take over responsibility for the project.
October 2007 - With support from local government officials, the FDOT begins negotiations to purchase key parcels of land needed to build parking lots near stations.
November 2007 - Following more than a year’s worth of negotiations and study of the corridor, contract documents between the FDOT and CSX are finalized.
February 2008 - The FDOT signs an agreement with CSX that allows commuter rail trains to travel along 61.5 miles of track now used exclusively by freight traffic and Amtrak. The FDOT agrees to purchase and maintain the tracks, as well as dispatch all freight and passenger rail trains through the corridor. Also, the commuter rail team finishes preliminary engineering of the system.
August 2008 - The Federal Transit Administration approves the system for entry into Final Design. The FTA clearance sets the stage for negotiation of a Full Funding Grant Agreement and federal funding of half the project’s capital costs for the initial operating segment between DeBary and Sand Lake Road in Orlando.
August 2008 - The FDOT hires Pete Turrell, a veteran of both international passenger and freight rail operations, as chief operating officer (COO) for the project.
December 2008 - Following months of community input, the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission selects a name and logo concept for the project.
January 2009 - With the recent debut of the SunRail name, the FDOT launches an improved, user-friendly website.
February 2009 - The FDOT awards the first competitively bid construction contract to a joint venture, led by Atlanta-based Archer Western Contractors Ltd. and RailWorks Track Systems Inc. of New York City, to perform construction work within the CSX Transportation right-of-way, including track and signal work as well as platform construction.
Spring 2010 - Todd Hammerle, who previously served as the District 5 Maintenance Engineer for the FDOT, is named SunRail project manager. Also, Joe Antonucci, a railroad veteran with more than three decades of experience managing train operations, system planning and safety, is appointed COO.
April 2010 - SunRail's official newsletter proclaims: “SunRail Back on Track.”
December 2010 - The FDOT completes the closing documents and finalizes the closing in escrow, clearing the way for transfer of the CSX right-of-way to the state of Florida. The moves meet the goal of completing the corridor acquisition by the end of 2010.
July 1, 2011 - Florida Gov. Rick Scott authorizes the FDOT, on behalf of the state of Florida, to sign the Full Funding Grant Agreement for SunRail.
July 18, 2011 - U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joins state officials to kick off Phase 1 of SunRail. The event, hosted by the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission and Florida Hospital, is held at the site of Florida Hospital's future station stop on the line.
Numbers Worth Noting
Perhaps the most pertinent numbers regarding SunRail is the estimated $615 million cost for a turnkey operation. Yet, several other tallies tell a story of need and promise.
100,000: More than 100,000 additional vehicles were registered in Central Florida between 2004 and 2008.
34: Gasoline consumption has increased an average of 34 percent in the last decade.
88: More than 88 percent of Central Floridians polled by the University of Central Florida believe the region needs a more balanced transportation system, including increased transit options such as passenger rail and buses.
77: The number of tourists visiting Central Florida is expected to increase by 77 percent by the year 2030, adding to the region's congested road network. More than 50 million people visited Central Florida in 2010.
850: Orlando drivers lost $850 in time and gasoline while creeping along in rush hour traffic in 2007, up from $510 in 2003. The $850 cost to each Orlando driver is expected to grow with traffic congestion and increased gasoline prices.
2,000: SunRail is expected to move as many people as one lane of Interstate 4 during peak travel times — about 2,000 cars per hour — at a cost less than building a single lane of I-4 (cost to build 30 miles, one lane, along I-4 is $2.3 billion vs. 61.5 miles of SunRail at $1.05 billion for right-of-way and construction).