Barely out of the testing phase, another of Brightline's Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach high-speed passenger trains claimed a victim Wednesday. It brings the death toll for the fledgling rail service to four.
According to Boynton Beach officials, the still-unidentified 60-year-old man was riding a bicycle at the Florida East Coast Railway crossing at East Ocean Avenue in Boynton when he was struck and killed.
Boynton Beach Commissioner Joe Casello told reporters the train's engineer described the bicyclist as "not even looking, just strolling" as the train roared toward him.
According to the Palm Beach Post, "At the scene, a backpack lay on the ground where the sidewalk on East Ocean Avenue crosses the tracks. About 50 feet north was what appeared to be a mangled bicycle in the middle of the tracks. A few feet beyond the bicycle and off to the side of the tracks, the man’s body was covered by a yellow tarpaulin."
Indian River and Martin counties and Stuart-based public-private partnership CARE FL have challenged in federal court the way Brightline and the U.S. Department of Transportation handled environmental impact studies. Among other things, the counties cite the negative effect the high-speed trains will have on their quality of life and safety as they zip through railroad crossings in areas north of West Palm -- not metropolises, but among some of the most populated regions of the state.
Safety has always been Treasure Coast residents' concern.
Sen. Debbie Mayfield, sponsor of a bill now in the Legislature created to address what she fears could be a spate of tragedies created by one of the five Brightline trains, reacted to the Boynton Beach death quickly. “My question to the corporate big wigs at Brightline is this," she said. "How many lives must be lost before you own up to your corporate responsibility? This is exactly why we need SB 572 -- the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act.”
Brent Hanlon, chair of CARE FL, was more specific: “This fourth death caused by AAF/Brightline demonstrates why community and elected leaders have from the start sought to address the problems caused by running high-speed trains in this highly populated corridor.
"To date, any concern regarding inadequate safety measures along the route has been met with scorn and derision by AAF/Brightline management. AAF/Brightline claims that safety is their number-one priority, but the death toll keeps mounting day by day. The real question is, how many more encounters between AAF/Brightline trains and pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists will lead to death at the at-grade crossings that are clearly not safe. The community and its leaders deserve real dialogue and answers that have not been forthcoming.”
The service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach was initially expected to launch in September but was delayed by financing issues, construction, litigation and Hurricane Irma.
Edwin Dunbar, meanwhile, who lives in a nearby apartment, told the Post, “I don’t know if it’s a safety issue or what. I know it does go fast." He didn't actually witness the incident, he said, but as far as he knows, the crossing gates at the site have been working properly.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith