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Brightline, Miami huddle on making rail line safer

A steady flow of passenger trains will be returning to downtown Miami soon and city officials are concerned about public safety.

The higher-speed private rail service Brightline launched one month ago with trips between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

The train, which is rolling up to 79 mph, is expected to begin its link to Miami in the early months of this year.

Since its January start, four people have been hit by a Brightline train, resulting in two deaths. In each case the pedestrians went around barricades, according to authorities.

On Feb. 8, Miami city commissioners discussed concerns, particularly that the brand new train travels much faster than older, conventional trains.

Commissioner Manolo Reyes brought up the topic, suggesting an aggressive public education campaign to convince pedestrians and motorists not to try to beat the train at a crossing.

Mr. Reyes said he’d like the city’s public information department to work on a campaign warning how dangerous the trains can be and put the word out on the city’s government TV channel “to make people aware: don’t try to beat it.”

Commissioner Joe Carollo said, “You can’t educate some people … those who play fast and loose.”

He said the city will have to spend money to install chain-link fencing on both sides of the tracks within the city limits to keep pedestrians away from the new trains and push for a heavy, immovable blockade at street crossings so motor vehicles “can’t come through.”

“[Otherwise] we’ll have a lot of people dying,” Mr. Carollo said.

The city manager’s office reported a sit-down meeting this week between city employees from the police and fire departments, transportation and public works with representatives of Brightline, its parent company, Tri-Rail and others to discuss public education and outreach on rail safety.

“Safety is our top priority,” Brightline’s Michael Lefevre told commissioners.

For more than a year, Brightline has reached out in its communities regarding rail safety, he said.

Coinciding with its official launch, Brightline announced it was expanding its outreach to raise awareness about rail safety. The company is continuing to partner with Tri-Rail, the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency, the Broward Metropolitan Planning Agency, local law enforcement, and cities and counties along the corridor.

“Increasing awareness about rail safety is of critical importance, which is why we continue working with our transportation partners to help spread the word,” said Patrick Goddard, Brightline’s new COO and president.

“For the past year, we have been engaged in the communities along the corridor, and we will continue these outreach efforts. We implore the public to be patient and not circumvent the safety devices in place to keep you safe. Your life is worth more than waiting a few extra seconds for a train to pass,” he said.

As part of its expanded outreach plan begun in early 2017, Brightline will continue working with Operation Lifesaver to create an additional public service announcement campaign, including materials in English, Spanish and Creole; installing additional signs that warn motorists and pedestrians to stay off the tracks at grade crossings along the corridor; activating safety ambassadors; and attending community events and passing out rail safety information.

For the past year, Brightline has partnered with Operation Lifesaver, developing a rail safety campaign and volunteering at community events.

About 40 Brightline employees are trained Operation Lifesaver volunteers and attend community events to teach their neighbors how and why it’s important to stay safe.

Prior to Brightline beginning operations and during the start of service, the company ran announcements on broadcast outlets in South Florida markets to ensure the public is aware of the laws that keep them safe, like waiting for the gate arms to return to the upright position before traversing a grade crossing after a train passes.

All public at-grade railroad crossings along the FEC Railway corridor in Brightline’s operating route have comprehensive safety infrastructure in place, including gates, constant warning time (predictor systems), bells, flashing red lights and signage, the company said.

According to Operation Lifesaver, 95% of all rail-related deaths involve drivers going through a crossing or a person on the tracks.

The distinctive and colorful Brightline trains are to begin daily trips through the City of Miami once the MiamiCentral station is complete enough to accept trains and passengers downtown.

The complete project is intended to connect Miami and South Florida to Orlando.


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