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Fledgling AAF/Brightline Claims a Fourth Life

January 18, 2018 - 6:00am

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 or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


I am already so sick and tired of constantly hearing the train and having to sit in traffic. I live in Boca so having the Brightline does absolutely nothing for me, except add more stress to an already stressful day. Thanks a lot, folks!

In 2016, 3,178 people were killed on Florida roads 678 of them were walking.... Where is the congressional inquiry about those deaths. The fact that brightline gets people out of their cars will save lives. Please keep that in mind.

It's an attractive nuisance. Elevated crossings will alleviate most of it. But...if the high speed rail is bypassing most of the towns on the Treasure + Space Coast, why not build it out in the willy-wags in the center of the state, where all you need to worry about would be hitting a cow? At least it would not Darwinize the idiots who cross the tracks or cause any noise or disrupt traffic and emergency vehicles here in Stuart.

I predicted this.............. You can't run a high speed or even medium speed train often through such densely populated towns without a lot of deaths..................... Not to mention the noisy, life disruption so these connected swells can get by on the cheap instead of elevating it though the towns and should be running in ground effect, not on noisy steel wheels..................... Note we didn't get a free HST from Tampa to Orlando that would have continued north because Scott, Repubs stopped it.............. Yet their guys want to, it sails though with subsidies and now the east coast will pay the price in noisy, traffic jams, deaths, etc subsidies that hurt many.

You actually can run trains trough towns without a lot of deaths - look at Chicago and NY suburbs to name two. Just need a culture of awareness of the risks of passing downed gates. It may take a generation to create the respect for crossing gates. Cheers.

Duh! Apparently, the same dumbbells that ignore red traffic lights and stop signs also ignore the ringing bells and gates at railroad crossings! If the bells and gates are all working properly ... it most certainly isn't Brightline's fault that some idiot choose to ignore those warnings.

Bright line has done nothing to educate the public of crossing gate risk. Northern systems have massive public information campaigns. Cheers

I am going to be blunt about this but people just need to pay attention. Parents teach their children from day one to look both ways before crossing the road/tracks.

Can anyone rationally explain why you would cross the tracks when the gates are down? Are we all in such a hurry the our lives will fall apart if we don't beat the train?

By their very nature, high speed trains travel faster than cargo trains that typically run on these lines. People who typically try to beat the oncoming train cannot do so when the train is moving faster. There are lots of signs and/or barriers alerting pedestrians and cyclists you not to cross the tracks due to an oncoming train. If you add warnings about high speed trains, does that mean it is safe to ignore safety measures for slower moving ones? The answer is stated by Kingnukem. We will likely see more Darwin award candidates on high speed and traditional speed railway crossings.

Decades ago, the Pennsylvania Railroad, wanted to build a higher speed corridor on the east coast for it's new electrified high speed trains. But with all the grade crossings (roads and sidewalks), it was impossible to envision the reality. Then they bit the bullet and raised, either, the roadways and sidewalks, or built rail bridges over roadways and sidewalks to prevent these very same accidents. I can only guess, why this man went through the crossing gates to be struck by the train, but it's going to keep happening unless they "completely" block access to crossing the tracks with more secure gates, or raise the railroad above the street grade. People are in a hurry. They just don't have time to wait for a train to go by.

Bright line isn’t even stopping in martin county and yet it will wreck havoc on our way of life! The tracks go right through our quint little downtown area and block service to hospitals! Go awaybtightline - not wanted!!!! Not safe

The recent “trespasser” deaths are not new to the FEC right of way. According to a just published report, “In total, 74 people have died on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks in the last five years, while the total number of incidents in which a train hit a person or occupied vehicle comes to 97, according to the railroad's data.” In fact, several of these deaths are often determined to be suicides. Regardless, and in the spirit of “fair play,” claims that the new Brightline is any more “unsafe” than the freight services already operating on the same railway is intellectually dishonest. These deaths are completely preventable if pedistrians and vehicle operators follow the safety signals and procedures already in place. No railroad operator or safety system can protect bad behavior.

That's the theory, we're seeing the practice. Cheers

“You cannot make things foolproof because fools are so ingenious” - so said Geoffrey Cox (and many others). Where does a pedestrian's/bicyclist's responsibility end? When he gets near a railroad crossing, he acts as if his eyes are closed and his ears are plugged and the railroad is responsible for avoiding this fool? This idea in itself is foolish.

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