Brightline service under scrutiny after grade-crossing incidents

Personal injury attorneys, politicians strongly criticize new passenger rail service
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Video via YouTube.

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — Grade-crossing accidents just a mile apart that resulted in the deaths of two people in a week have the new Brightline passenger service in the crosshairs of elected officials and trial attorneys.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has asked Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to investigate. Boynton Beach officials may ask Brightline to suspend operations until safety questions are answered, the Palm Beach Post reports. And a Florida state senator has re-filed a bill that would, among other things, require railroads to pay for fencing along high-speed passenger routes under certain circumstances.

“This is a tragedy. How many more people must die before we really take a look at putting safety first when it comes to high-speed rail coming through our communities,” the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, asked in a tweet.

Last week, a 31-year-old woman was struck and killed when she walked around lowered gates and into the path of a Brightline train, police said. In the second incident,
a 51-year-old man who rode his bicycle around lowered crossing gates was struck and killed by a Brightline train on Wednesday, police said.

Under Florida law, it is illegal for pedestrians or motorists to cross tracks when crossing gates or barriers are lowered or are being lowered or raised. Cyclists are required to follow the same laws as motorists.

But Gary Iscoe, a personal injury lawyer, posted a video on YouTube claiming Brightline would be responsible for more injuries and deaths than existing Florida East Coast, Amtrak, and Tri-Rail service in Florida.

“Now, we have the disaster of a much broader scope waiting to happen. Its name is Brightline,” Iscoe says in the video.

The lawyer did not cite any evidence to substantiate his claims and did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

“Who are the negligent and uncaring officials who make decisions which will lead to crash after crash, resulting in injuries and deaths,” he asks in the video.

“Who among our elected officials will stand up for the safety of our citizens and demand that this dangerous train service be halted before more needless injuries and deaths occur? Who will take responsibility for these deaths and future mayhem,” Iscoe says.

Brightline and Operation Lifesaver conducted an extensive outreach program before the launch of passenger service between Miami and West Palm Beach. Brightline also upgraded every grade crossing along its route on Florida East Coast trackage.

“The safety of Brightline’s guests and on the railroad is the highest priority for our entire team,” Brightline said in a statement. “The safety systems are designed to prevent and protect people from incidents like those that occurred in recent days. Those systems functioned as intended. Our focus is on expanding our efforts to educate the community about rail safety alongside our partners at Operation Lifesaver, Tri-Rail, local law enforcement, city and county officials.”

“Our thoughts are with all those involved in the recent rail incidents in South Florida,” says Wende Corcoran, interim president of Operation Lifesaver. “Our mission is to end these preventable tragedies.”

Operation Lifesaver’s state programs and trained volunteers provide free educational presentations.

“We teach citizens that train tracks are private property – it is illegal to be on them except at a designated crossing, and going around lowered gates also is illegal — and dangerous,” Corcoran says.

Brightline and Operation Lifesaver also developed materials geared toward children and adults.

“A safety pledge card, fact sheet, in-classroom poster, tri-fold brochure and mailer were developed and produced in Spanish, Creole, and English, to meet the needs of the south Florida populace,” Brightline says on its website, where the materials are available for download.

Brightline also is working with municipalities along the Florida East Coast Railway to share rail safety information, including through utility bills, city websites and social media outlets, the passenger operator says.

Brightline began regular service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 13. The privately operated passenger service eventually will extend south to
Miami as well as north to Cocoa on Florida East Coast tracks.

A new high-speed route will be built between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport.
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