Turns out that Central Florida’s local governments will not be taking control of SunRail next year, as originally planned.
When SunRail launched 6 years ago – May 2014 – the plan was for the Florida Department of Transportation to manage the commuter-rail system and pay for most of the operations until May 2021.
However, at Thursday’s quarterly meeting of the SunRail funding partners – Orlando, with Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Volusia counties – a consultant said the takeover would likely occur in May 2022.
Consultants are currently analyzing every facet of the SunRail operations to prepare the funding partners to take over the system. That process will take about 18 months.
SunRail depends on a host of contractors for services that include everything from ticket vending machines to train operators. All those functions would be managed by the local funding partners when FDOT steps back in the transition.
The biggest question about the timing of the transition was raised by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings. He wanted to know if the state would be willing to continue footing the bill for an additional year. SunRail’s annual capital and operating budget is $58 million.
Jared Perdue, the newly named FDOT district secretary for Central Florida, assured Demings and the other elected officials who serve on the SunRail Commission that the state was “very committed to SunRail’s future.”
Despite Perdue’s assurance the time extension is not a sure thing because Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has never been a fan of commuter rail. It’s unclear how generous DeSantis and the Republican-dominated legislature will be next year in the wake of the economic disruptions caused by the Covid-19 shutdown.
In other news during the virtual meeting Mike Heffinger Jr, who serves as SunRail CEO, noted that on early on Wednesday afternoon (5/27) a vehicle was hit by a SunRail train at the Holden Avenue crossing in south Orange County. He said there were no injuries and only ONE passenger on the train at the time.
During the stay-at-home period of the pandemic SunRail’s ridership slid from nearly 7,000 daily in February down to 850. Ridership is slowly increasing up to 1,500.
See you on The Rail!