Nearly nine months passed between the time a Brightline train in South Florida derailed and when the public finally learned of the accident. The accident occurred at only 4 miles per hour, yet still caused nearly half a million dollars in damages. And although nobody was injured in the accident, the secrecy surrounding the crash has renewed concerns that Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, is hiding a lot more.
“The disconnect between the derailment and AAF (Brightline’s) failure to make it public is disturbing,” said Dylan Reingold, Indian River County Attorney. “The safety and well- being of our communities require greater transparency.”
Indeed, Brightline did have something to hide over the time period between the train wreck and finally acknowledging the crash publicly. On at least four occasions between February 11, 2017, the date the wreck occurred, and April 4th, 2017, when rail officials publicly bragged about addressing rail safety, no mention whatsoever was made of the accident:
- February 22, 2017 – Florida House Workshop on High Speed Passenger Rail. Myles Tobin, General Counsel of AAF / Brightline testifies but fails to mention the derailment of train.
- March 2017 – CARE FL receives information from knowledgeable rail source that derailment occurred. CARE FL searches for but is unable to find a derailment report. FRA safety staff is unaware of the incident.
- March 12, 2017 – Florida Senate Transportation Committee hearing on High Speed Passenger Rail Safety legislation. AAF Vice President Rusty Roberts testifies and, again, fails to mention derailment.
- April 4, 2017 – Michael Reininger, then President of Brightline, authors opinion editorial, “All Aboard Florida goes extra mile to address rail safety,” touting AAF going the extra mile to address rail safety. Again, no discussion of the incident.
This disturbing pattern of facts suggest that Brightline / All Aboard Florida needed to keep the accident under wraps because the Florida legislature was in the midst of conducting hearings and considering legislation that could have a significant impact on the future of high speed rail in Florida.
“Soon after this incident, AAF officials attended not one but two state legislative hearings about rail safety and never once disclosed facts about the derailment, while they sought to table the safety legislation under consideration,” said Brent Hanlon, Chairman of Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida.
Hanlon’s group opposes the Brightline plan to build high speed rail, in part due to community safety concerns that naturally arise any time several hundred tons of high-speed train roars through a busy population center in South or Central Florida.
But even local officials are disturbed that backers of high speed rail went to great lengths to covered up even a minor safety accident, and raises significant concerns about transparency and public oversight.
“It is unfortunate that Martin County is forced to spend taxpayer money to make sure our safety concerns are addressed at the state and federal levels. A simple confirmation of a derailment took three months to get from DOT, but six months after the derailment itself. We would have never known about this significant public safety issue had we not demanded to know the facts,” said Ruth Holmes, Senior Assistant Martin County Attorney.
While Brightline / All Aboard Florida tout their high-speed rail project as a privately funded venture, the group has sought federally guaranteed loans, which some have argued are much too risky to taxpayers, given the fact that most passenger rail projects in the United States underperform their rosy passenger and revenue projections. With so much at stake, both financially and from a public safety perspective, Brightline / All Aboard Florida must to be exceedingly transparent with the public, but this latest incident is a major step backwards.