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Politics

Lawmakers: Study High Speed Rail Operations in Florida

March 13, 2018 - 12:00pm

In a victory for the citizens of the Treasure Coast region, and based on work by Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) and Indian River and Martin Counties, the Florida Legislature has included language in the state budget directing the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to commission a study to examine existing and planned passenger rail operations, including high-speed passenger rail, in Florida. 

Currently, Florida has no laws or regulations addressing the safety of high speed trains such as the one proposed by All Aboard Florida (AAF).  

A joint press statement from CARE FL and the counties says study language as proposed by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, and the Florida Senate follows an unprecedented series of deaths and injuries -- now numbering six separate incidents -- in which individuals were struck by AAF/Brightline high speed trains currently running between West Palm Beach and Fort  Lauderdale. 

The language was included despite efforts and politicking by AAF to kill any measure related to rail safety this session, according to the statement.

The AAF/Brightline project proposes to send 32 new 80-110 mile per hour passenger trains, and more and longer FEC freight trains, along the same tracks between Miami and Orlando. The deaths and injuries, which occurred at rail crossings in South Florida clearly demonstrated to lawmakers the urgent need for safety measures to protect pedestrians and motorists who cross the tracks multiple times a day every day.

“This study will require the hiring of experts to take a hard look at the impacts of high speed rail in Florida and in areas that never previously contemplated trains travelling at 110 miles per hour through densely populated areas,” said Dylan Reingold, Indian River County Attorney. “The study should confirm that pedestrians, children and vehicles are in danger at many of the at-grade crossings.”

“Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida is deeply grateful to Sen. Mayfield and Representatives Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, and Mary Lynn Magar, R-Tequesta, for their unwavering commitment to protecting the residents of our community and all Floridians,” said Brent Hanlon, CARE FL Chairman. “This study is a necessary step so when our Legislature meets again, they will understand and act to address the deadly consequences of high speed trains in our communities.”

The AAF/Brightline high speed rail project will significantly increase the number and speed of trains passing through nearly 350 at-grade road crossings along the Florida East Coast Rail corridor, 28 of which are located in Martin County and 31 of which are located in Indian River County, posing more dangers and opportunities for accidents between trains and vehicles or people.

“If done responsibly, the rail study should compel state and federal governments’ to finally meet their regulatory obligations to ensure the safety of the public in and around railroads,” said Ruth Holmes, Martin County senior assistant county attorney.

The study will include:

  • An overview of the Florida Rail System, including existing and planned passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail operations in the state, and identification of existing and planned passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail stations, corridors, and associated railroad-highway crossings.
  • An overview of the jurisdiction of federal, state, and local governments to regulate passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail operations.
  • A review of data relating to incidents, including resulting injuries and fatalities, involving passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail operations in this state.
  • Recommendations to further enhance passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail safety in this state, including a review of current crossing signalization, grade crossings and separations, corridor protection, public education and awareness, and coordination with local law enforcement and emergency management officials.
  • Recommendations to further improve passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail in this state.

According to the language, the final report will be submitted to the governor, the president of the Senate, and the speaker of the House of Representatives by Nov. 1, 2018.

However, the language authorizing the study now heads to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk for his approval. 

“We urge the governor to approve this much-needed study to ensure the public’s safety,” added Hanlon.


READ MORE FROM SUNSHINE STATE NEWS

AAF/Brightline Opponents File Federal Suit to Stop USDOT's 'Illegal' Rail Decisions

Fledgling AAF/Brightline Claims a Fourth Life

Comments

Living between Miami and Sarasota I am so excited for the train service and hope a major investment could eventually be made to have service built along Florida’s west coast connecting to Miami.

I don't understand how anyone could consider a train to be a threat. Yes Brightline has resulted in a few deaths, but this has been due to the complete negligence of the community. It blows my mind when i hear a parent say "but my kids, how are they going to be safe on the railroad tracks with a fast train coming through??" Go on Youtube and you can see videos of cars and pedestrians ignoring the gates because they don't want to wait 2 minutes. And it's never kids, every video i have seen it has been adults. Seriously, it takes about a minute and a half for the gates to come down, the train to go by, and the gates to go back up again, there really is no need for the impatience. Also, just because the treasure coast is not getting a station now, doesn't mean they won't be able to later. If i lived on the treasure coast i would love a to be able to take a high speed train to the airport, as i fly a half dozen times a year. There is a decent market there that i'm sure Brightline would love to cater to, simply because there is no major airport there. Building the train station after the train line already exists is the easy part. I do understand the noise issue however. Luckily the implementation of "quiet zones" are possible. That horn is loud. Here is a video demonstrating how fast it takes for the gates to go down and the train to go by : https://youtu.be/HhfmzPNi-Pg Here is a video of a truck going around the gates and almost getting hit by Brightline : https://youtu.be/FwIFic35BQc

In most countries where high speed rail service has operated for many years, cross traffic is limited by the trains running on elevated lines, or the cross traffic is elevated over the train tracks. In either case, it would cost $BILLIONS to install the infrastructure to accomplish the same separation of traffic here on the Treasure Coast.

Apparently, people in counties north of Broward are simply too stupid to figure out that if the gates are down, the lights are flashing and the bells are ringing, there is a real high probability that a train is coming. If you aren't in the ten and a half foot wide "box" in front of the train, the train won't hit you!

Apparently you are in the pocket of high speed rails! If you knew anything about Martin county, then you would know this proposed rail runs right through our small downtown. 32 trains daily will disrupt boating, ambulances, hospitals, commuters and impact all of our daily life. These trains would have to slow down for the dangerous curves directly past the Roosevelt bridge! If the powers that be must build the high speed train then do it in western Martin county - problem solved. Oh yeah, and the “ commuter train” ( more bs) won’t even stop in our county. The people of Martin county are screwed royally.

32 trains daily is a ridiculous number. If it were limited to 12, that would be more appropriate. 6am, 6:30am 7am, 7:30am, 8am, 8:30 am; 4:30pm, 5:00pm, 5:30pm, 6:00pm, 6:30pm would be all that communters NEED (notice I didn't say want).

Do you drive a car? Do you stop for red lights or do you drive right thru them? If you drove through red lights consistently how long before you would be hit by cross traffic? And then you would blame the vehicle that hit you and demand they move their travel to "western Martin County - Problem solved"

I-75 Relief is an opportunity for the state to look at the “big picture” and include passenger rail in it. Florida is similar to Western Europe in that we have many cities and tourist destinations densely spread out throughout the state — literally all over — which justifies a passenger rail system. All over the state, to support and encourage long term, the tourism industry. Especially high paying foreign tourists who are used to using rail transport more than highways. At the same time, we have seaports attracting container ships from the Panama Canal, with imported goods mostly destined to states other than Florida. The best way to move those containers destined to other states, is by freight rail to one Florida location where freight trucks can pick them up for other states. Lake City is the only logical destination: it can receive rail freight from all Florida seaports (Miami, Tampa, Jax, even New Orleans), and unload onto trucks for other states. Only imported containers destined for Florida should be taken by trucks from the seaports. Freight rail will subsidize passenger rail even more this way. By using freight rail to help keep tourists and trucks off our highways more, it’ll prolong the capacity life of the highways for state residents and taxpayers. As well as other Americans who prefer auto travel to Florida. We don’t need dedicated expensive high speed rail lines. Just more passenger trains spread out all over the state on freight rail. Expanded to more cities if passenger rail spurs are added.

Very well thought out. You make very good points about which I, and probably others, have not thought. You may be changing my mind.....

NO passenger rail service in the U.S. pays for itself. The taxpayers end up footing the bill even if they don't use the trains. I

Hopefully the study isn’t bought out by big money/investors/croooked politicians. As a resident of Martin county these high speed trains will wreck havoc on our peaceful community disrupting traffic patterns, and safety for schools and hospitals! We say NO to high speed rails!

We kill 35,000 people per year in automobile accidents and accept it as part of life. A private company wants to move some of that traffic to safer trains, resulting in fewer people killed and maimed. As an additional benefit, air pollution and noise pollution is reduced and wear and tear on taxpayer funded highways is reduced and energy use is reduced. You analyze all the facts and conclude it "will wreck havoc on our peaceful community". Would you also favor abolishing or prohibiting freight trains and moving all that cargo by truck through our community on asphalt roads? While it would be a traffic and environmental disaster, it would be justice for the residents of Martin County. More paving, more cars more traffic, more accidents - - that is our goal and we insist the government get it for us.

No.....we Don't want to stop the transport of goods....No...We don't want the pollution of trucks transporting the goods. What we DO want is to move the freakin' tracks away from the center of heavily populated areas. It is absolute insanity to have these thousand ton rockets roaring through the center of small communities at speeds of an unheard 100 + mph. What about ambulances, fire and emergency vehicles having just minutes to respond to a call to have to wait for speeding freight trains to fly by. What about the derailment of one of those speeding rockets while going through a populated area....how long and far would that flying scrap heap travel and how much carnage would it take with it. Has anyone given an ounce of thought on this?

Something is up when politicians and "citizens groups" organize against the first ever private sector passenger rail service since the original railroads themselves, or maybe the original Auto-Train of the 1970s to actually turn a wheel with paying riders on board. Are they getting help from auto, highway and fossil fuel interests to fight rail, or is it sheer hatred of something they don't want to understand and cannot control? The bill to actually regulate rail in Florida failed, so here's a bill to study it to death instead of actually let it develop and provide a public service and convenience. Study this if you're not too busy with Brightline: CSX wants to sell its rail line west fr Jacksonville to Mobile, AL, used by Amtrak til 2005 and promoted for restoration of passenger service.

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