Lawmakers want Brightline to pay for safety upgrades

Legislators push for Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act

Courtesy of Matt Feibert

MIAMI – Sen. Debbie Mayfield and Rep. Erin Grall are pushing their colleagues in the Florida House and Senate to pass legislation to address what they say is a need for more high-speed rail safety measures.

Mayfield said the deaths involving the new Brightline high-speed train prompted him to file the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act, which establishes minimum safety standards for high-speed passenger rail. 

The legislation would require a railroad company to realign crossing gates, equip all automatic public railroad-highway grade crossing warning systems with remote monitoring technology, and construct and maintain fencing.

"These deaths are tragic and unacceptable ... I believe we must do everything possible to ensure public safety and to minimize the  risk  of  further tragedy," Mayfield said in a statement.

Mayfield and Grall said they have been met with resistance since the legislation would prevent high-speed passenger rail companies from shifting upgrade and maintenance costs to the taxpayers. 

"Local governments should not have to absorb the costs of a privately funded project," Grall said. 

Mayfield amd Grall said they are concerned about Brightline trains speeding through a rail corridor where there are about 350 crossings, and they believe Brightline should be solely responsible for upgrades related to its operation and safety.

Patrick Goddard, Brightline's president, released a statement Jan. 19 to reiterate that the company partnered with Tri-Rail, the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency, the Broward Metropolitan Planning Agency, law enforcement, cities and counties to improve safety.  

"Increasing awareness about rail safety is of critical importance," Goddard said about the purpose of Brightline's partnerships. 

Goddard also asked the public to act responsibly and "not circumvent" the existing safety devices. Brightline paid for upgrades on the first phase and plans on doing the same for the second phase, a spokesman for company wrote in an e-mail.

Brightline also released a list of safety tips:

- Look and listen for a train as you approach all railroad crossings - obey all signs, warning lights and gates. 

- Trains are quieter and faster than you think - never try to beat a train. 

- Because of their size and weight, it can take a mile or more to stop a train. 

- Always expect a train on any track; avoid distractions when you approach a crossing. 

- Railroad property is private property. Walking on the tracks is illegal and dangerous. 

DOCUMENT: Brightline president's letter to Citizens Against Rail Expansion

About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.