Workers prepare an All Aboard Florida Brightline express inter-city train for display before the start of a media tour in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. The Brightline Express project is a $1.5 billion investment that will bring high speed train travel to commuters from Orlando to Miami.
Brightline high-speed passenger trains operate between Orlando and Miami and hold the unwelcome distinction of being both the first intra-city high speed rail in the U.S. and the deadliest trains in America, by far. After three people died at a single grade crossing in two separate incidents last week it seems the feds are finally perking up and taking a closer look at what the heck is going on in South Florida these days.
Here’s what happened last week, per ABC News:
As of right now, it seems, in both cases, that the drivers in question attempted to beat the train at the intersection. However you need to take those preliminary findings with a grain of salt; Brightline trains are the deadliest in the nation by far, and the company has had a lot of explanations for this body count, including blaming the majority of deaths on suicides a few years ago, despite southern Florida, and the Florida East Coast railway, being particularly terrible for high-speed rail.
Now the National Transportation Safety Board is taking a close look at Brightline’s operations following the three deaths at the same crossing. Despite its dismal safety record, Brightline recently expanded operations and increased the speed its travel speed for trains.
Federal investigators already told Brightline years before it began service that traveling at speeds cresting 80 mph on the FEC would lead to tragedy. A 2014 Federal Railroad Administration called the FEC already one of the most dangerous tracks in America due to the excess of graded road crossings in densely populated neighborhoods and uniquely unsuited for high-speed travel. From the Florida Bulldog:
Brightline’s then-owners had rejected recommendations by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to beef up safety features at planned rail crossings in northern Palm Beach County, where the train was proposed to run in speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour. Also rejected were additional safety measures, including new gates and signs at pedestrian crossings throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Recommendations included sealed corridors at 31 crossings in South Florida, which block cars and people from entering the tracks. The use of completely fenced bridges and underpasses were also recommended. The same treatment was urged for Phase 2 from North Palm Beach to Orlando.
The report’s author, engineer Frank A. Frey, said, “The company was not exercising appropriate safety practices and reasonable care when designing for high speed passenger rail service.” He added that the company felt such measures would be cost prohibitive.
Since that time, Brightline agreed to include the engineer’s recommendations into Phase 2 of the project that runs from West Palm Beach to Orlando.
For every 37,000 miles traveled by a Brightline train, there’s a fatality. The next deadliest isn’t even close; CalTrain in San Francisco at one death per 105,000 miles. Brightline says its now taking steps to make the trains as safe as possible, including a robust community outreach program, but the entire plan to provide high-speed rail in this area seems flawed from the start. It’s almost like mass transit is too important to leave in private hands.
The NTSB plans to release a preliminary report next month, with a more detailed accounting in a year or two. Melbourne, Florida, Mayor Paul Alfrey told ABC that, while these incidents seem to be caused by drivers trying to beat the train, there are real operational elements to consider:
“Years ago we had five or six trains maybe a day, and now we’re getting five, six times that,” Alfrey told WPLG following Wednesday’s fatal collision. “You really have to focus on your safety, your passenger’s safety.”
Alfrey told reporters at the scene following Friday’s incident that they need to do another, “aggressive” public safety campaign on rail safety. He also touched on other safety measures, such as enhanced barriers.
“This area — it doesn’t require a quad gate at this location, maybe that’s something that needs to be brought in,” he said.
We will update this story when we know more.
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