BOCA RATON (CBSMiami) — South Florida’s new Brightline passenger rail service is working to prevent a public relations nightmare following multiple deaths from the high-speed trains since its launch.
Officials with Brightline held a news conference Friday at the Florida East Coast Railway station in Boca Raton, to address recent safety concerns and push a message of safety.
Brightline said they want to bring awareness and enhance education about rail safety.
Brightline President Patrick Goddard said their plan includes placing safety ambassadors at the busiest intersections.
“We’re going to place individuals at the busiest intersections up and down the corridor to reinforce the need and to communicate obeying the traffic signals and signage that we have placed in the corridor,” said Brightline CEO Patrick Goddard.
Along with placing people at busy areas of the tracks, Brightline plans a safety blitz including public service announcements and more signage. Another idea that could be coming for both Brightline and Tri Rail is drone technology.
“The concept is to send drones in specific cases along specific portions of the track that we know are problem areas in advance of a train to alert the train crew if there’s someone on the tracks,” said Steven Abrams, Chair of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
Four people have died after being struck by a Brightline train since the new high-speed passenger service began conducting test runs early last year.
The most recent was Wednesday, January 17, when Jeffrey King was struck and killed in Boynton Beach while riding his bicycle over the tracks. His death was the first since the train began taking paying passengers.
January 12, pedestrian Melissa Lavell was struck and killed in Boynton Beach during a final private Brightline test run with local VIPs on board.
Police say King and Lavell ignored the bells and lights, went around the gates and were hit as they tried to beat approaching Brightline trains, which travel at more than 70 mph through Boynton Beach.
Keith James is with the Palm Beach transportation planning committee. He said the message is simple.
“These trains move faster than they appear,” he said. “It is just simply you should not try to beat a train. If the gates are down and the lights are flashing red this means stop, just like a red light. Do not try to walk, bike, or drive around them. Respect the gates.”
The death of an 18-year-old woman in July 2017 was ruled a suicide when she jumped in front of a Brightline train making a test run through Boca Raton. In November, the death of a woman hit on tracks near Fort Lauderdale was ruled an accident.
Brightline said in a written statement Friday morning they are “committed to equipping the general public with the knowledge necessary to stay safe around not just Brightline tracks, but all train tracks.”
The company is in the process of upgrading crossings with safety features such as more road and sidewalk gates, signs, bells, flashing lights and raised curbs and medians designed to prevent people and cars from crossing the tracks as a train approaches. The features, once completed and approved by the Federal Railroad Administration, would allow the intersections to operate as “quiet zones,” with no need for engineers to blast horns in residential areas.
Owned by Florida East Coast Industries, Brightline is a privately owned mass transit venture that is ultimately planned as a $3 billion Miami-to-Orlando service. Right now, the trains run only from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach. An expansion of Brightline’s trains — which move far faster than the freight trains that have dominated the FEC lines for decades — is planned into downtown Miami, and then to Orlando.
Safety on American train tracks is an issue for established passenger and freight companies across the country. During the first 10 months of 2017, 831 people died when accidentally struck by trains, 69 of them in Florida, the Federal Railroad Administration says. Another 143 died by suicide during that period. Accidental deaths jumped from 2016, when there were 736 the entire year and 266 by suicide. Most accidents happen when people ignore bells and gates, or while cutting across tracks between crossings.