Florida Congressmen File Rail Safety Bill in Washington, DC
Congressmen Bill Posey and Brian Mast announced today their sponsorship of new legislation dealing with pedestrian safety and the Brightline/Virgin Trains higher-speed rail system in our region. The Pedestrian Safety Study Act requires the Federal Railroad (FRA) and Federal High-way Administration (FHWA) to study the impact of All Aboard Florida’s Virgin Trains USA high speed rail project on pedestrian and motorist safety. The agencies have two years from enactment of the bill to complete the study and report to the House, Senate and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).
The legislation recognizes the high number of deaths on the route and the proximity of the route to schools and playgrounds. Of the 43 Virgin Trains deaths and 31 Florida East Coast Rail (FECR) deaths since January 2018 on the corridor, 75% have been pedestrian deaths. Currently operating at speeds up to 79 mph, the project’s second phase will reach speeds up to 110 mph.
“These trains will travel at fast speeds through existing town centers and residential areas with little separating the tracks from the surrounding communities,” Congressman Posey explained. “The deaths our communities have already witnessed along this corridor clearly indicate there are safety issues, and Brightline has a long history of straight-up lying to the people of Florida…” Congressman Mast added.
As was announced by national media earlier this year, the Brightline/Virgin Trains system was the deadliest system in the U.S. per track mile in 2019. The issue of pedestrian or “trespasser” deaths, as the FRA calls them, was a concern prior to the advent of Virgin Trains with the highly dangerous FECR freight system.
In 2014, the FRA engineer who surveyed the route prior to the project start said, “Trespassing is an epidemic along this corridor.” However, much of the pedestrian gates, fencing and channeling recommended by the FRA for higher-speed rail was not installed on Phase One because the corporation wanted the cities and counties to help pay for the equipment service and maintenance.
In its report to the Florida Legislature in 2018 on Florida’s passenger rail, consultants from CPCS Transcom concluded there are “…high levels of trespassing incidents on the railroad right of way due to rail services operating in dense urban areas.” Their recommendations included special gates at crossings, fencing at key locations to deter pedestrians taking short cuts and pedestrian bridges strategically located.
As is the case with pedestrian gates recommended by the FRA, Virgin Trains management have stated the additional fencing and bridges would be too expensive to build for the Treasure and Space Coast portion. The Florida Department of Transportation has not required the safety upgrades be installed.
“We have said from the start, the 100-year-old Flagler route through the densest part of Southeast Florida is no place for trains going over 70 mph,” Susan Mehiel, spokesperson for the Alliance for Safe Trains said. “Generations of Floridians have crossed these tracks on foot to get to work, school, shops and churches. You wouldn’t put an open 70-mph highway next to a school, why would you allow a train track there?”
Two examples of schools close to the tracks are the Gifford Middle School in Indian River County and the Ascension Catholic School and Church in Brevard County. State Senator Debbie Mayfield and Rep. Tyler Sirois, Merritt Island, proposed similar legislation last session in Tallahassee. “I applaud the Congressmen for their leadership in ensuring the safety of Space Coast residents. The Pedestrian Safety Study Act will shed light on the increased dangers to pedestrians, motorists, and residents that will be forced to cross or live next to high speed rail,” Rep. Sirois commented.