U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood signed a full-funding agreement Monday for the first phase of the central Florida commuter train called SunRail.
The long-planned project almost was derailed by Gov. Rick Scott, who delayed contracts for months while he studied it. He announced July 1 that he would allow it to move forward.
The federal full-funding agreement is for 50% of the $615 million capital cost for phase one, a 31-mile section expected to begin service in 2014. The 30-mile-long second phase will be running in 2016. A large portion of the cost is to buy existing tracks from CSX Transportation, which runs through four central Florida counties and Orlando.
The state is paying 25% of the cost while the remaining 25% will be paid by Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties, and Orlando. The Florida Department of Transportation will operate the train for the first eight years. After that operations will be turned over to local funding partners. It’s not clear if any costs will be financed with bonds.
“This community has worked relentlessly to advance a vision for SunRail as the critical first step in the effort to give our residents desperately needed alternatives to their automobiles and a mechanism to create tens of thousands of quality jobs,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, chairman of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission.
LaHood and SunRail funding partners and backers attended a ceremonial groundbreaking and signing Monday at the train station site funded by Florida Hospital in downtown Orlando.
Construction work on SunRail’s tracks is scheduled to begin in the next few months. The project is expected to create 13,000 construction and operations jobs. Additional jobs will be created in and around transit stations.
Last week, FDOT gave Bombardier Transportation notice to proceed with the design and manufacturing of bi-level coaches and cab cars for the project.