The so-called higher-speed rail line — which runs from Miami to West Palm Beach at up to 79 miles per hour — has been deemed by the Associated Press to be the deadliest train per mile. At least 55 people have been killed since Brightline's debut three years ago, and there have been 11 crashes since the train started operations last November following a 20-month hiatus during the pandemic.
Mike Arias, a retired traffic officer for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue with 40 years of experience and public roadway safety advocate, tells New Times he recently wrote a letter to Brightline officials, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, and other municipal leaders across South Florida offering simple solutions to make Brightline crossings safer. He has yet to hear back.
In light of the recent spate of crashes and the fact that the rail line is expanding to Orlando, we asked Arias to share the three suggestions he says will prevent Brightline crashes and save lives.
fast Brightline passenger train. West Palm Beach, FLA pic.twitter.com/MWmqW4wSUX— Chris Pontius (@cpFNC) February 4, 2018
Reduce Speed at Busy Crossing StationsArias predicts the biggest game-changer when it comes to saving lives is actually the cheapest and the easiest to implement. If Brightline trains were required to slow down to approximately 10 miles per hour at least half a mile away from busy crossings, train operators would have enough time to brake if they saw a vehicle or pedestrian on the tracks.
"Decrease the travel speed of the train from an estimated 40 to 60 miles per hour that they currently travel through intersections to 10 miles per hour in the event they encounter a stationary vehicle on the track," Arias says.
The downside, for a company that bills itself as the "Fastest Way To Travel," would be to lengthen overall travel time.
We can’t keep doing this, Miami-Dade!— Daniella Levine Cava (@MayorDaniella) February 3, 2022
A few minutes are not worth your life. Ignoring traffic signs and railroad crossings can kill you. Stay on your side of the bar and stay safe! pic.twitter.com/QSJkIfhgl1
Reinforce and Extend Crossing GatesThe crossing gates are activated when a train approaches, gently lowering to form a barrier between street traffic and the railroad tracks as trains pass. But the gates are slender and easy to maneuver around, especially for smaller vehicles.
To keep drivers from trying to "beat the train" and being struck, Arias proposes installing new gates that are longer and sturdier, making it more difficult for drivers to pass.
"You need to harden the infrastructure so that it is fail-safe," he says. "The majority of fatalities that occurred, in my opinion, could have been prevented."
Cameras That Transmit Video of Crossings to Brightline CrewIf cameras are installed at each of the region's 178 crossings, Brightline conductors and crew would have adequate time to respond to vehicles or pedestrians on the tracks, and potentially prevent a crash.
Arias concedes that this would be a costly undertaking, considering monitors would have to be installed in every train and cameras at each of the region's 178 crossings.
"Being that we have the technology readily available, mount the camera, and have a live feed directly to the operator," Arias says. "And as the train is approaching, the operator will have a better visual of whether there's something up ahead or not."