SunRail's expansion to the south is nearing the building phase, with the Florida Department of Transportation starting to take bids for the extension into Osceola County, one of the last steps needed to get the project underway.
The FDOT is looking for a general contractor and a designer, either through a single company or two that team up, for a design/build project that is expected to begin late this year and be completed in two years.
The contractor must have experience with railroad and bridge construction, as well as flexible paving, among other skills. The designer must also have highway experience, as well as expertise in right of way structuring, pavement marking and general transportation.
The project includes track work and construction of stations, with the contractor to be chosen Oct. 5.
The expansion to the south is pegged to cost $186.9 million, with federal funding covering 50 percent and local and state funds each contributing 25 percent.
The 17.2-mile extension will run from the existing Sand Lake Road Station in Orlando to Poinciana in Osceola, with stops along the way at Meadow Woods, Tupperware, and Kissimmee/Amtrack.
SunRail already has 12 stations running 32 miles from DeBary in Volusia County to Orlando, a system that opened on May 1, 2014.
A planned extension north to DeLand in Volusia County, whose cost is projected at $70 million, remains unfunded. The FDOT is working on a federal grant that would cover 50 percent. The FDOT would then look to state and local governments to split the remaining 50 percent.
Construction activity for the Osceola extension involves, on much of the line, building a second track beside an existing one to allow two trains to operate simultaneously in two directions. Double tracking will take place from Southchase in southern Orange County through Poinciana.
Construction will typically happen between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. and is planned to take place between crossings to minimize impacts on road traffic.
SunRail carried an average 3,635 passengers a day during August, the latest available figures show. The new line is expected to boost ridership by roughly 2,000 a day.
SunRail did not do enough business to post a profit in its first year. The commuter train finished $27.2 million in the red, bringing in $7.2 million while spending $34.4 million, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, chairman of the SunRail board, called the performance "good for a first year," and predicted losses would fall in coming years because the train would carry more passengers and advertising income would increase.