Troubled Train? SunRail Has Big Revenue-Expense Problem

SunRail logo1SunRail has a bigger problem than low ridership. SunRail has a revenue-expense problem, and local taxpayers will be on the hook in just a few years. With Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer prematurely pushing for expansion and greater expenses, it should make the community wonder if anyone is paying attention to the numbers or looking out for local taxpayers.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation and SunRail, the estimated fare box revenue for Fiscal Year 2015 (which began July 1) is a meager $2.3 million. SunRail hopes to add an additional $5 million in FY 2015 revenue from fees for the use of tracks, 3rd party leases and advertising. That means over the next year, SunRail is hoping to bring in just over $7 million in revenues.

This is where the whole SunRail revenue-expense issue becomes a problem. The estimated operating and maintenance costs for FY 2015 is currently set for a staggering $25 million in expenses. These costs include rail operations, maintenance of tracks and vehicles, signals, and fuel.

That’s a gap of nearly $18 million! Even though the state is currently covering this tab, in just a few years, local government and taxpayers will have to fund SunRail.

A federal reimbursement coming to SunRail is not expected until FY 2017. SunRail already plans to accommodate expanded service by 2017 north to DeLand in Volusia County, and south to Poinciana in Osceola County. The plans don’t include anything like proposals to link SunRail to the airport.

SunRail ridership continues to fall below the “projected” first year numbers, as ridership decreased 13% in August. Expanding SunRail, as Mayors Jacobs and Dyer want, will require at a minimum additional funding sources, the renegotiation of agreements, the purchase of additional vehicles and larger operating and maintenance costs. Neither Jacobs nor Dyer have put forward any real or detailed proposals for local funding publicly.

Exactly how much revenue are the riders generating? According to FDOT and SunRail figures, total revenue for May 2014 was only $176,172 while total revenue for June 2014 was slightly higher at $195,187. Fiscal Year 2014 ended in June with total revenues around only $371,359. Clearly Fiscal Year 2015 is off to a slower start as ridership numbers fall.

As a comparison, FDOT and SunRail also provided information on the expenses during the May 1-June 30 time period totaling $3,860,339.50.

It’s looking like SunRail is a troubled train, with a big revenue-expense problem.

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