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Bill Would Make AAF Rail Service Pay for Safety Upgrades

January 17, 2017 - 8:00pm

Treasure Coast lawmakers, concerned about a passenger railroad service that will travel through their districts, want high-speed operators to pay for safety upgrades.

Targeted at All Aboard Florida's Brightline service, which is planned to eventually link Miami and Orlando, the measure (SB 386) filed Tuesday also would give the Florida Department of Transportation regulatory authority over high-speed rail where not preempted by federal regulations.

"I find it quite astounding that Florida does not have any measures in place to address high-speed rail when there is a statewide project underway that will crisscross through my community, many others between Miami and Orlando, and potentially up Florida's entire East Coast," bill sponsor Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, said in a prepared statement. "This legislation is really designed to protect all Floridians from accidents and injuries at these dangerous railroad crossings across the state."

Republican House members MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta, Gayle Harrell of Stuart and Erin Grall of Vero Beach were expected to jointly file a House version of the bill.

"This legislation not only protects Floridians from the potential dangers of high-speed trains by ensuring the appropriate safety technology is in place, but also protects their tax dollars by ensuring the appropriate entity pays for those upgrades," Magar said in a statement.

Ali Soule, a spokeswoman for All Aboard Florida, said Tuesday the company wasn't commenting on the legislative proposal.

The proposal comes as All Aboard Florida this week is starting to test its first Brightline passenger train on Florida East Coast Railway tracks between West Palm Beach and Lantana.

The privately funded passenger service is set to run at speeds up to 79 mph between Miami and West Palm Beach starting this summer.

It may be another two years before All Aboard Florida, which has yet to announce ticket prices for its routes, is running its colorful, high-tech Brightline trains north at speeds up to 110 mph from Jupiter to Cocoa and then at 125 mph to Orlando. Martin and Indian River counties continue to legally fight the Brightline service.

Brent Hanlon, chair of Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, a residents' group opposed to All Aboard Florida's planned service, voiced support for the legislation on Tuesday.

"This important legislation will ensure that AAF (All Aboard Florida) is solely responsible for the cost of upgrading and installing the appropriate safety measures desperately needed at high-speed rail crossings, protecting not only the safety and well-being of Treasure Coast residents, but our pocketbooks as well," Hanlon said in a prepared statement.

Mayfield has argued that All Aboard Florida's proposal "will erode our quality of life, endanger the lives of our citizens and create unnecessary obstacles to first responders."

The measure would require high-speed passenger rail companies to pay for the installation or realignment of crossing gates and fencing, along with maintenance of roadbeds, tracks, and railroad culverts within the confines of road or pedestrian crossings.

The Palm Beach Post has reported that All Aboard Florida is paying $60 million for safety improvements along the tracks from Miami to West Palm Beach, while transportation officials in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties are putting up $12 million for upgrades tied to quiet zones along the tracks.

Mayfield's measure also would allow state transportation officials to offer local communities training for accidents involving rail passengers and hazardous materials.

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida has argued that the passenger rail plans could impact evacuation routes and that chemical releases or explosions could impact Florida Power & Light's St. Lucie Nuclear Plant.

The rail line, which is used to haul commercial freight, is located on the west of the Intracoastal Waterway. The nuclear power plant is on Hutchinson Island, along the eastern bank of the waterway.


The author needs to print a disclaimer that he does not know the definition of "High Speed Rail". For the most part this just a train and then at times it only becomes "Higher Speed Rail". Sadly, when anybody can write the news, it would be nice when they get it right...

Agree with the prior comment. Ask the communities in Nebraska and Kansas what happened to them in the late 1970's and early 1980's when the coal trains from the Powder River Basin/Gillette Wyoming started rolling through their towns bifurcating them for periods of time precluding first responders from getting to emergencies. Houses burned and people died unnecessarily until separated grade crossings were put into place by Congress via the Highway Trust Fund. Siting of such in urban areas was most complex and difficult. Even then depending on the location of the separated grade crossing, certain responders were not able to get to emergency locations too distant from the separated grade crossing. BOCA FOLKS YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. -- BEWARE. You who have supported these trains without implementing the necessary safety measures should be prepared for the coming problems for your first responders. You are now in the crucible and need to start thinking about where, how and who will pay for the separated grade crossings in your communities. And you will need extensive lead time since the construction of such separated grades crossings in your urban area will be quite problematic. I presented this same above description to all members of the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners over a year ago which included your Boca Mayor. Have done all I can to be a Paul Revere on this issue. Time for the rest of you to get real on this. Most of the rest of the planet with rapid rail transportation have rail corridors separated from their highways. That is why their rapid rail system works.

Rail crossings in the U. s. are notoriously unsafe because they are on grade--as compared to English and European rail lines which are completely off-grade--either over or under. The statute should require off-grade crossings at every street juncture. When I was in school in England it was said that there was only one on-grade crossing in the entire city of London and it was being revised--and that was in 1982!

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