FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Tracks used by the nation’s deadliest railroad will get additional fencing to keep out pedestrians and safety improvements at crossings with 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 fatalities along its tracks between Miami and West Palm Beach.
In the last 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 kilometers) its trains travel, and it’s the worst fatality rate among the nation’s more than 800 railroads, according to an ongoing Associated Press analysis of data from the Federal Administration of railways.
The grant, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuild America’s Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program, will cover security features, including 33 miles (53 kilometers) of fencing at high-intrusion locations along with extensive improvements to the junctions at the 333 junctions along the corridor. , which will eventually stretch from Miami to Orlando, Brightline president Patrick Goddard said.
The company will also install 150 additional warning signs and 170 more suicide crisis hotline signs “to better reach those who may be struggling with suicide,” Goddard said.
None of the Brightline-related deaths have been attributed to the railroad, its equipment, or its crew. Police investigations showed that most of the victims were suicidal, intoxicated, mentally ill or had jumped through barriers at an intersection in an attempt to beat the trains, which travel at speeds of up to 79 mph (128 kph) through from densely populated areas with stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
“We want Brightline to be in the news for all 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 are when we are dealing with a sadly determined person who wants to end her life on the tracks.”
Officials hope suicide crisis hotline signs and fencing in areas where multiple pedestrian deaths have occurred will help.
They also targeted motorists trying to cross the tracks ahead of a train.
“When you see these train doors fall, you’re not going to beat a train,” said Broward County Mayor Michael Udine. “Don’t try. Don’t. Take care. Be smart.”
To help complete the public/private partnership, Brightline and the Florida Department of Transportation will each contribute $10 million, bringing the project to $45 million.
“This is a big day and we’re dealing with a very important issue,” 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 roadway boxes at intersections in an effort to keep motorists out of danger zones, Goddard said. They will also put up plastic posts, similar to those used to separate express lanes on highways, to prevent drivers from changing lanes in an effort to get around crossing bars that warn of approaching trains.
Tracks are shared by the Brightline and Florida East Coast Railway, and higher-speed passenger trains make 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 with central Florida, is expected in 2023.
AP reporter Terry Spencer contributed to this report from Fort Lauderdale.
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