In recent years, many Florida residents have started riding on new high-speed passenger railroad lines as a fast and easy way to travel to various cities throughout the state. However, this new mode of transportation faces a few safety concerns. The Florida tri-rail trains, Amtrak and Brightline, were said to create a fast and secure way of transporting Florida citizens to and from various cities around Florida, including West Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando, and others. However, this year alone, Brightline has struck approximately 40 people due to suicide attempts and errors by individuals attempting to cross the railroad tracks according to the Federal Railroad Administration. In order to improve railway safety, Florida will be introducing Bill SB 676, the Florida High-Speed Rail Safety Act.
Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act
reported that Brightline, which is rebranding to Virgin Trains USA, had the worst per-mile death rate in the nation (one death for every 29,000 miles) compared to other railroads. However, it should be noted that these fatal accidents were not due to faulty equipment or employee error. The majority of the Brightline deaths were due to suicide, while other fatal accidents involved drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists who ignored warnings and believed they could cross the railroad in time.
A year ago, a study of Florida’s passenger rail system found that while the FDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration placed regulations for conventional (up to 80 mph) and high-speed (126 to 220 mph), they had not yet developed regulations for trains traveling at 81 to 125 mph. To help resolve the rampant problem, State Senator Debbie Mayfield and State Representative Tyler Sirois have reintroduced the “Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act.”
The Florida High-Speed Passenger Safety Act is composed of two bills, which, if enacted, will go into effect on July 1, 2020. House Bill 465 speaks of the regulation of high-speed railroad companies and includes the minimum safety standards as well as the safety inspection requirements and the construction and maintenance of certain fencing. Senate Bill 676 requires the FDOT to regulate the railroads in cases where it is not already obligated to do so under federal law.
As of November 7, 2019, the Act has reached the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee and is awaiting a decision. If approved, the Act will be referred to the Transportation and Tourism Subcommittee and the State Affairs Committee for further review.
According to the Florida Passenger Rail System Study, there are specific recommendations that can be followed to improve safety:
- Enforce Railroad Crossing Trespass Violations – Establish harsher penalties for crossing trespassing or a photo/video enforcement program for at-grade crossings.
- Review Rail Safety Resources –Assess current resources of the Department of Children and Families and Department of Health to determine a statewide suicide prevention activity to be leveraged.
- Update FDOT’s Mandate – Clearly define its regulatory role in implementing safety regulation on a state level.
- Implement State-of-the-Art Practices – Set regulations on quiet zones in urban areas to address railroad system noise or create a requirement for navigation applications to include audio and visual alerts of upcoming railroad crossings.
Safely Navigate Railroad Crossings
Here are a few reminders for train safety:
- Trains cannot stop and always have the right of way. Make sure to stop, look both ways, and listen.
- When driving, stop 15 feet away from the flashing lights, lowered gates, or stop signs.
- Never drive around a lowering gate, as it is extremely dangerous and can result in a fine.
- If your car stalls in the middle of a crossing, exit your vehicle and call 911.
- Be patient and do not race the train! No life is worth risking, cross carefully.
If you live near a rail line, it is extremely important to educate your family on the dangers of being near the active tracks, as trains will become a more common mode of transportation here in South Florida and throughout the state.
If you or a loved one are seriously injured or even killed as a result of an accident, it is always important to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible as you may be able to recover for economic and non-economic damages.
Florida to roll out new safety measures to curb deadly rail-crossing accidents (n.d.) Retrieved December 26, 2019 from https://orlandoweekly.com/Blogs/archives/2019/12/05/florida-to-roll-out-new-safety-measures-to-curb-deadly-rail-crossing-accidents
Always Expect a Train #crosscarefully (n.d.) Retrieved December 26, 2019 from https://nhtsa.gov/campaign/rail