Governor Rick Scott today announced that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has begun the process to allow for private investment in a high-speed rail connection from Orlando to Tampa. [Read more…] about Gov. Scott: FDOT Begins Process for Privately Funded High-Speed Rail from Orlando to Tampa
high speed rail
In a victory for the citizens of the Treasure Coast region, and based on work by Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) and Indian River and Martin Counties, the Florida Legislature has included language in the state budget directing the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to commission a study to examine existing and planned passenger rail operations, including high-speed passenger rail, in Florida. Currently, Florida has no laws or regulations addressing the safety of high speed trains such as the one proposed by All Aboard Florida (AAF).
The study language was proposed by Senator Debbie Mayfield and the Florida Senate following an unprecedented series of deaths and injuries in six separate incidents in which individuals were struck by AAF/Brightline high speed trains currently running between West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale. The language was included despite efforts and politicking by AAF to kill any measure related to rail safety this session.
The AAF/Brightline project proposes to send 32 new 80-110 mile per hour passenger trains, and more and longer FEC freight trains, along the same tracks between Miami and Orlando. The deaths and injuries, which occurred at rail crossings in South Florida, clearly demonstrated the urgent need for safety measures to protect pedestrians and motorists who cross the tracks multiple times a day every day.
“This study will require the hiring of experts to take a hard look at the impacts of high speed rail in Florida and in areas that never previously contemplated trains travelling at 110 miles per hour through densely populated areas,” said Dylan Reingold, Indian River County Attorney. “The study should confirm that pedestrians, children and vehicles are in danger at many of the at-grade crossings.”
“Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida is deeply grateful to Senator Debbie Mayfield and Representatives Erin Grall and Mary Lynn Magar for their unwavering commitment to protecting the residents of our community and all Floridians,” said Brent Hanlon, CARE FL Chairman. “This study is a necessary step so when our Legislature meets again, they will understand and act to address the deadly consequences of high speed trains in our communities.”
The AAF/Brightline high speed rail project will significantly increase the number and speed of trains passing through nearly 350 at-grade road crossings along the Florida East Coast Rail corridor, 28 of which are located in Martin County and 31 of which are located in Indian River County, posing more dangers and opportunities for accidents between trains and vehicles or people.
“If done responsibly, the rail study should compel state and federal governments’ to finally meet their regulatory obligations to ensure the safety of the public in and around railroads,” said Ruth Holmes, Martin County Senior Assistant County Attorney.
The study will include the following:
- An overview of the Florida Rail System, including existing and planned passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail operations in the state, and identification of existing and planned passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail stations, corridors, and associated railroad-highway crossings.
- An overview of the jurisdiction of federal, state, and local governments to regulate passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail operations.
- A review of data relating to incidents, including resulting injuries and fatalities, involving passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail operations in this state.
- Recommendations to further enhance passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail safety in this state, including a review of current crossing signalization, grade crossings and separations, corridor protection, public education and awareness, and coordination with local law enforcement and emergency management officials.
- Recommendations to further improve passenger rail and high-speed passenger rail in this state.
According to the language, the final report will be submitted to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives by November 1, 2018.
However, the language authorizing the study now heads to Governor Rick Scott’s desk for his approval.
“We urge the Governor to approve this much-needed study to ensure the public’s safety,” added Hanlon.
Sen. Mayfield and Rep. Grall push for high-speed
passenger rail measures SB 572 and HB 525
Senator Debbie Mayfield, (R-Melbourne) and Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) held a news conference at the Capitol calling on their colleagues in the House and Senate to address the need for high-speed rail safety measures. The lawmakers observed a moment of silence for the victims and their families.
“These deaths are tragic and unacceptable which is why I have been pushing for high-speed passenger rail safety measures for the past two sessions,” said Sen. Debbie Mayfield, (R- Melbourne). “Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, I have been met with resistance every step of the way. I believe we must do everything possible to ensure public safety and to minimize the risk of further tragedy.”
Sen. Mayfield has filed SB 572 that will create the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act that establishes minimum safety standards for high-speed passenger rail, including the installation of approved safety technology that at a minimum must include Positive Train Control and Remote Health Monitoring. Before operating high-speed passenger rail, a railroad company must also install or realign crossing gates, equip all automatic public railroad- highway grade crossing warning systems with remote health monitoring technology, and construct and maintain fencing in accordance with the act. Additionally, this act will prevent
Later this afternoon the Senate Committee on Community Affairs is holding a workshop to discuss SB 572.
Residents in the affected regions have long expressed their growing fears over the additional 32 passenger trains per day and additional freight trains that will be speeding through a rail corridor where there are approximately 350 at grade crossings. County governments have also expressed concerns over the cost of safety upgrades which they will have to absorb despite the high-speed rail project being touted as privately funded.
“Local governments should not have to absorb the costs of a privately funded project,” said Rep. Erin Grall, (R-Vero Beach). “My bill will hold Brightline and other rail companies responsible for the cost of necessary safety upgrades rather than shifting them to the taxpayers.”
Rep. Grall and co-sponsor Rep. MaryLynn Magar have filed HB 525 which stipulates that a railroad company operating high-speed passenger rail is solely responsible for all rail corridor improvements or upgrades relating to its operation and safety. Neither local governments nor the state will be responsible for any costs associated with the construction and maintenance of necessary improvements unless express consent is given in writing.
Joining Sen. Mayfield and Rep. Grall were Kate Pingolt Cotner, Assistant County Attorney for Indian River, Chief Dan Wouters, Fire Rescue, Division Chief of Martin County Emergency Management, and Brent Hanlon with Citizens Against Rail Expansion in FL who echoed concerns on behalf of the Treasure Coast Region.
For more information please visit flsenate.gov and myfloridahouse.gov.
Today, Senator Debbie Mayfield filed Senate Bill 386 to create a high speed passenger rail safety act. Representatives MaryLynn Magar, Gayle Harrell and Erin Grall also filed a house companion. Brent Hanlon, chair of Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida issued the following statement.
“On behalf of the members of Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida and concerned residents in the Treasure Coast region, we thank and applaud Sen. Mayfield and Reps. Magar, Harrell and Grall for filing legislation to protect our safety and well-being. The thoughtful measure specifically addresses Florida’s current unacceptable lack of any law or regulation governing high speed rail safety.
“What many Floridians do not realize is that All Aboard Florida (AAF) plans to send up to 32 high-speed passenger trains barreling through our small communities each day, negatively affecting thousands of school children, first responders, pedestrians and residents. As if that’s not enough, they also plan to add additional freight trains that may carry hazardous materials, increasing the risk for something to go wrong. And to top it all off, AAF wants us to pay for the cost of maintaining the upgrades necessary to protect ourselves from these dangerous trains. This important legislation will ensure that AAF is solely responsible for the cost of upgrading and installing the appropriate safety measures desperately needed at high-speed rail crossings, protecting not only the safety and well-being of Treasure Coast residents, but our pocketbooks as well.
“Sen. Mayfield and Reps. Magar, Harrell and Grall fully understand the negative impact the AAF project would have on our communities if allowed to move forward as planned, and have taken commendable action today to not only put sensible state wide and not project specific regulations in place to enhance public safety, but to alleviate the financial burden that would have been placed squarely on the backs of our local governments as well.”
CARE FL is a coalition created by a group of concerned community leaders, organizations and neighbors in South Florida and the Treasure Coast. Our group continues to grow. We share a common goal: Protecting the safety, welfare and way of life for the families, businesses and retirees who live in and around our communities. To learn more about CARE FL’s concerns, visit www.saveourfl.com and follow us on Twitter @CARE_FL or like us on Facebook.