A group of South Florida lawmakers are renewing their call for the state to require more stringent safety requirements for the Brightline high-speed rail system following recent incidents that have killed two pedestrians in the first five days of service.
That brings the total number of fatalities associated with the high-speed rail system to four since July 2017.
Brightline began service between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach earlier this month with plans to expand to Miami and the Orlando area. Residents and leaders along the train route have expressed concerns about safety regarding the introduction of high speed rail to such a densely populated area.
“Brightline is barely out of the gate and in less than two weeks these fears have become a reality when two pedestrians were struck down by their fast moving trains,” said state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne.
Mayfield has filed legislation that would create the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act that establishes minimum safety standards for high-speed passenger rail, including the installation of approved safety technology.
Critics are specifically concerned about those areas where the trains have the greatest chance of interaction with vehicles and pedestrians — mainly at railroad crossings.
Mayfield’s proposal would require a railroad company to realign crossing gates and equip all automatic public railroad-highway grade crossing warning systems with remote monitoring technology. The bill would also require a company to construct and maintain fencing to help keep the public away from the tracks..
There are approximately 350 crossings on Brightline’s route. It’s estimated it would cost $1 million to upgrade each crossing.
Local governments don’t want to be responsible for picking up that price tag.
“Local governments should not have to absorb the costs of a privately funded project,” said Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, who is sponsoring the measure in the House. “My bill will hold Brightline and other rail companies responsible for the cost of necessary safety upgrades rather than shifting them to the taxpayers.”
Under Grall’s legislation, neither local governments nor the state will be responsible for any costs associated with the construction and maintenance of necessary improvements unless express consent is given in writing.
One state lawmaker says the Brightline systems has some serious engineering flaws that need to be addressed to better protect the public.
“What’s happening here along this corridor is we have faulty engineering,” said Rep. Thad Altman, R-Indiatlantic. “They have not met the proper safety standards in the engineering of the track and crossings.”