FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tracks used by the nation's deadliest railroad will see added fencing to keep pedestrians away and safety improvements at crossings under a $25 million federal grant announced Monday.
Brightline and government officials announced the grant as the privately owned passenger line continues to be plagued by deaths along its tracks between Miami and West Palm Beach.
In the past two weeks, Brightline trains have killed three people, and 68 since the service began its first runs five years ago. That’s about one death for every 33,000 miles (53,000 kilometer) its trains travel, and is the worst fatality rate among the nation’s more than 800 railroads, according to an ongoing Associated Press analysis of Federal Railroad Administration data.
The grant, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program, will cover safety features, including 33 miles (53 kilometers) of fencing at locations of frequent trespassing along with extensive crossing improvements at all 333 crossings along the corridor, which will eventually stretch from Miami to Orlando, Brightline President Patrick Goddard said.
The company will also install an additional 150 warning signs and 170 more suicide crisis hotline signs “to better reach those who might be struggling with suicide," Goddard said.
None of the deaths involving Brightline have been blamed on the railroad, its equipment or its crews. Law enforcement 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 (128 kph) through densely populated areas with stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
“We want Brightline to be in the news for all of the right reasons," Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said during a news conference in Fort Lauderdale. “Unfortunately there have been too many incidents, some of which when we are dealing with a sadly determined person who wants to end their life on the tracks."
Officials hope the suicide crisis hotline signs and fencing in areas where multiple pedestrian deaths have occurred will help.
They also addressed the motorists who attempt to cross the tracks ahead of a train.
“When you see these train gates come down, you are not going to beat a train," Broward County Mayor Michael Udine said. “Do not try. Don’t do it. Be safe. Be smart."
To help fill out the private/public partnership, Brightline and the Florida Department of Transportation are each chipping in $10 million, bringing the project to $45 million.
“This is a big day and we’re dealing with a very big deal," said Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who serves with Wasserman Schultz on the House appropriations committee. “What Brightline is doing and what they’ve done is a national model."
Brightline will install delineators and edge striping, along with painted boxes on the roadway at crossings in an effort to keep motorists out of the danger zones, Goddard said. They will also put plastic poles, similar to those used to separate express lanes on highways, to keep drivers from changing lanes in an effort to go around the crossing bars that warn of oncoming trains.
The tracks are shared by Brightline and Florida East Coast Railway, with the higher speed passenger trains making stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach throughout the day. Stations are currently being added in Aventura, north of Miami, and in Boca Raton. An expansion to Orlando, which would connect Miami to central Florida, is expected in 2023.
AP reporter Terry Spencer contributed to this report from Fort Lauderdale.