State set to buy SunRail tracks for $150 million

Oct 31, 2011

The following article was published in the Orlando Sentinel on October 31, 2011:

State set to buy SunRail tracks for $150 million

By Dan Tracy

The much-delayed SunRail project could reach another milestone this week when the state buys 61 miles of track from the CSX railroad company for $150 million.

“That’s the final step,” said Roger Neiswender, Orlando’s top SunRail consultant. If the closing occurs as scheduled Thursday, the Florida Department of Transportation will be able to turn loose its contractors on the corridor to get it ready for the $1.2 billion commuter train.

“They can put people on the ground and put big yellow machines out there,” said Jim Harrison, Orange County’s top transportation manager.

 Officials say the work will create 8,000 construction jobs, ranging from laborers to carpenters, track installers and drainage subcontractors.

The tracks run from DeLand in Volusia County through downtown Orlando to Poinciana in Osceola County. Work could begin in December, officials said. SunRail is scheduled to start running in late 2014.

The key is getting the papers signed and the check handed over to CSX, which primarily has used the tracks for freight traffic, although Amtrak also operates a few carrier trains, too.

Although a FDOT spokeswoman confirmed the closing date, CSX spokesman Gary Sease said “there still were some things to work through.” He would not be more specific.

A postponement would not be a surprise, considering the history of the project.

SunRail was supposed to be running by 2009, under a 2004 plan originally brokered by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

But a series of legislative setbacks, a disagreement over liability with Amtrak and a six-month delay by Gov. Rick Scott backed up construction, engineering and design work.

The first phase of the system will be 31 miles, from DeBary in Volusia to Sand Lake Road in south Orange County. The Archer Western/Railworks consortium is in charge of the work and will be paid almost $171 million.

One of the prime tasks will be adding a second set of tracks in much of the corridor. In all, about 18 miles of additional track must be installed. Double-tracking allows trains to stay on schedule.

Contractors also will be building a signal system, concrete station platforms and a control center in Sanford, where Archer Western/Railworks has an office. Several road crossings would be upgraded, too. Calls to Archer Western/Railworks were not returned.

FDOT spokesman Steve Olson said the first station platforms will be installed in DeBary and Sanford, while the initial signal improvements will occur south of Sybelia Avenue in Maitland, to just south of State Road 408.

Supporters contend more than 245,000 jobs from development around the stations will occur during the next 30 years.

Rida Development Corp. last week announced plans to build a $200 million development in downtown Orlando that would be linked to SunRail station at the Lynx bus headquarters.

The first phase could include a hotel and midrise apartment buildings of seven to 10 stories. Estimated to cost $100 million, it also would have ground-floor shops and restaurants. It is supposed to open about the same time as SunRail.

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