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After Brightline deaths, Florida transportation secretary announces new safety measures

The department will paint new markings on more than 4,000 railway crossings in the state.
An example of the type of white railway markings the Florida Department of Transportation plans on installing on the either side of more than 4,000 railway crossings in the state.
An example of the type of white railway markings the Florida Department of Transportation plans on installing on the either side of more than 4,000 railway crossings in the state. [ Florida Department of Transportation ]
Published Dec. 5, 2019

In an effort to reduce deaths along Florida’s railways, the state’s transportation secretary announced Thursday the department would install new markings at more than 4,000 railway crossings in the state over the next two years.

The announcement came just days after an Associated Press analysis found that South Florida’s high-speed Brightline train, which has plans to expand to Orlando and Tampa, had the highest death rate among the nation’s railways.

Since July 2017, 41 people have been struck and killed by the train, a rate of more than one per month. The majority have been suicides, and none have been blamed on Brightline crews or equipment, according to the report.

As a countermeasure, Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault said the state would paint bright markings on the pavement on both sides of each railway crossing.

The department applied those markings two two railway crossings during pilot projects in 2013 and 2017. The markings reduced the number of cars that stopped on or close to the tracks by at least 15 percent, according to the department.

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That was without any kind of education efforts about the markings, the department said. Thibault has ordered the department to launch a statewide rail safety campaign and to work with state and local police to enforce rail safety laws. The department expects that 15 percent figure to improve.

“One fatality on our rail crossings is one too many, and I am committed to doing everything I can as secretary to prevent additional tragedies from occurring across our state,” Thibault said in a statement.

Installing them at each of the more than 4,000 railway crossings is expected to cost nearly $60 million over the next three years, according to the department. The effort would be completed by March 2022.

Brightline launched its route between Miami and West Palm Beach in January 2018, running about 17 trains traveling at speeds of up to 79 mph each day, according to the Associated Press.

People have been hit and killed by them since the services started test runs the previous year. Of the nation’s 821 railroads, Brightline has the highest death rate per mile, with one death for every 29,000 miles the trains have traveled.

Why the route is so deadly is unclear. It shares tracks with Florida East Coast, a freight line that has seen one death for every 160,000 miles in the last two years. The Tri-Rail line that moves passengers on parallel tracks has had just one death for every 110,000 miles traveled, according to the Associated Press.

The report found that many of the deaths have involved impatient motorists, pedestrians or bicyclists who misjudged the trains’ speed and ignored bells, gates or other warnings. Drugs, alcohol or both have been found in many victims’ systems.

The company has been installing additional safety measures at its crossings and is experimenting with infrared motion detectors and drones to patrol its tracks.

“This is something we obsess about. ... It’s tragic,” Brightline President Patrick Goddard told the Associated Press.

The service plans to expand to Orlando by 2022, and it is exploring building a route between Orlando and Tampa in the future.

A spokeswoman for Brightline did not respond to a request for comment.