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Florida Brightline passenger train line kills 5th person in a month

The recent deaths continue a trend that shows Brightline to have the worst fatality rate among the country’s approximately 800 railroads.
FILE - Vehicles wait for a Brightline passenger train to pass in 2019 in Oakland Park. A Brightline higher-speed train fatally struck a pedestrian who walked into its path Tuesday.
FILE - Vehicles wait for a Brightline passenger train to pass in 2019 in Oakland Park. A Brightline higher-speed train fatally struck a pedestrian who walked into its path Tuesday. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]
Published Jan. 4
Updated Jan. 4

FORT LAUDERDALE — A Brightline higher-speed train fatally struck a pedestrian who walked into its path Tuesday, the fifth death involving the railroad since it recently resumed operations after being shutdown because of the pandemic.

Boynton Beach police said the pedestrian was struck about 7:50 a.m. Spokesperson Stephanie Slater said no further details were immediately available.

The recent deaths have all occurred in the last month, continuing a trend that shows Brightline to have the worst fatality rate among the country’s approximately 800 railroads since it began test runs in mid-2017, according to an Associated Press analysis of Federal Railroad Administration data.

None of the 52 earlier deaths involving Brightline have been blamed on its equipment or crews. Investigations showed most victims were either suicidal, intoxicated, mentally ill or had gone around barriers at an intersection in an attempt to beat the trains, which travel up to 79 mph through densely populated areas between Miami and West Palm Beach.

Brightline officials did not immediately return a call and email Tuesday seeking comment. After a recent accident, the privately owned railroad issued a statement saying, “safety is a topic that we will not stop talking about and we are asking the community, law enforcement, elected officials and members of the media to use their platforms and help amplify a consistent safety message: stay off the tracks and obey all warning signs.”

Brightline has installed infrared detectors that will warn engineers if anyone is lurking near the tracks so they can slow down or stop. The company has added more fencing and landscaping to make track access more difficult and is also installing red-light cameras at crossings that will allow police to ticket drivers who go around guardrails. It is testing drones to monitor the tracks.

The first of the latest spate happened Dec. 7, when a pedestrian was struck in North Miami Beach. Four days later, a pedestrian was struck in Hollywood. On Dec. 30, a 68-year-old driver and his 58-year-old sister died when he drove around warning gates into the path of a Brightline train.

Brightline shut down its service from March 2020 until November, but one of its trains fatally struck a pedestrian in July during an engineer training exercise.

An ongoing AP analysis of federal data that began in 2019 shows Brightline trains strike someone about every 33,000 miles traveled.

Excluding five small railroads that average less than 100,000 miles traveled a year, where one or two fatal accidents skew their numbers, the railroad with the next worst rate to Brightline is central Florida’s SunRail, which since mid-2017 has had at least 18 deaths or about one every 100,000 miles, according to federal records.

TriRail, a commuter service that operates in the same area as Brightline, averages about one death every 115,000 miles.

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Brightline plans to begin service connecting West Palm Beach and Orlando in about a year. On that new segment, trains will reach speeds of 125 mph when they travel through less densely populated farmland. It also is developing a line that will connect Southern California and Las Vegas.

By TERRY SPENCER, Associated Press