Friday, May 08, 2009

Supporters scramble to salvage SunRail

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Despite the Florida legislature's repeated rejection of a 61-mile central Florida regional rail service, dubbed SunRail, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) and the Florida Department of Transportation continue to explore ways to keep the proposal alive.

“We've got to explore all of our options and see if we can move forward. There may be a delay in the service,” Mica said. “We've invested eight years. We have $100 million in public hearings and planning."

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For its part, FDOT “is already working to save the regional rail system,” FDOT District 5 spokesman Steve Olsen said. “Our official position is, we're in the process of looking at the options. We're talking with our funding partners.”

FDOT, acting on behalf of the state, was to purchase right-of-way from current owner CSX between DeLand and Poinciana, at a cost of about $615 million. Legislators objected to several issues but especially the portion of the proposed agreement absolving CSX from any liability on the route, even if CSX was involved in any incident.

Adding moral support to the SunRail effort was DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, who said,  “Commuter rail for Central Florida is important to the state and the nation.”

But the clock continues ticking. At a meeting hosted by the Railway Supply Institute in Washington May 7, CSX Director of Federal Affairs Stephen Flippin said time was running out for SunRail, and CSX’s deal with the state was set to expire on June 30.