EXCLUSIVE: Brightline train derailed in Feb., causing $408K in damage

Brightline train derailed in February as it moved through the company’s rail repair yard in West Palm Beach at a speed of 4 miles per hour, causing $408,000 in equipment damage, according to an accident report filed with the Federal Railroad Administration.

A Florida East Coast locomotive was leading All Aboard Florida’s Brightline train into the company’s maintenance facility just north of the city’s downtown on Feb. 11 when a section of the train derailed as it moved through a “switch point” in the track. The Brightline train was returning from “signaling compatibility test” when the accident occurred.

Federal officials said Brightline and Florida East Coast Railway officials “promptly” notified the Federal Railroad Administration of the incident and followed all reporting requirements. There were no injuries.

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The derailment is drawing fire from opponents of the project who argue Brightline officials did not disclose the incident during state legislative hearings held earlier this year. On Feb. 22 — 11 days after the incident — All Aboard Florida General Counsel Myles Tobin appeared before members of a Florida House committee to discuss a proposed bill regulating high-speed trains.

“Soon after this incident, AAF officials attended not one but two state legislative hearings about rail safety and never once disclosed facts about the derailment, while they sought to table the safety legislation under consideration,” said Brent Hanlon, Chairman of Citizens Against Rail Expansion, also known as CARE-FL, a Treasure Coast-based group that has been fighting the Brightline project.

In a statement issued Monday, Brightline called the incident “minor,” adding that it occurred at a facility owned by the rail line.

“As confirmed by the Federal Railroad Administration, Brightline followed all applicable rules by providing prompt notification about the minor incident that occurred on its private property,” a company spokesperson said. “This is another baseless fear tactic by Treasure Coast consultants.”

MORE: All Aboard’s Brightline won’t start until track upgrades finished

State Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, was part of a group of Treasure Coast lawmakers to propose a bill last year that would have created statewide rules requiring high-speed rail operators to install and pay for certain safety upgrades. No action was taken on the bill during the spring legislative session, but Magar said she hopes to file a new version when lawmakers return to Tallahassee.

Magar said the derailment raises new questions about the Brightline project, particularly because the train was moving so slow when the accident occurred.

The company’s trains are expected to reach speeds of up to 79 mph between Miami and West Palm Beach; 110 mph between West Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach; and 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando. Freight trains on the FEC line operate at speeds of between 35 and 40 mph, although the trains are capable of moving up to 60 mph, officials have said.

“I think we should be transparent when we are talking about safety issues,” Magar said. “These are people’s lives that we are putting at risk.”

In a May 30 letter to federal transportation officials, an attorney representing Martin County and CARE-FL raised questions about incident, asking whether Brightline filed the proper notifications within the appropriate time frame.

Thomas Herrmann, director of the Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Technical Oversight, said Brightline and the FEC followed federal rules when they initially notified the agency of the incident. Brightline “subsequently filed an accident report related to the derailment,” he wrote in an Aug. 21 response to CARE-FL’s letter.

“FRA understands that on February 11, 2017, a Brightline locomotive derailed its trailing truck while negotiating a switch at four miles per hour within the Brightline yard facility,” the letter said. “The derailed Brightline locomotive was the second locomotive in a consist led by a FEC locomotive into the Brightline yard and maintenance facility.”

The FRA, when asked by the Palm Beach Post on Monday, did not confirm either the date when Brightline alerted the agency of the incident, or the date on which it filed a report.

“The railroads have 30 days from the end of the month in which a reportable accident/incident takes place to file a report with the FRA,” the agency said. “So in the example cited, AAF had 30 days from the end of February (the last day in March) to file its reports with FRA.”

At the time of the accident, only one of Brightline’s trains — BrightBlue — had arrived in West Palm Beach. The rest were still being manufactured at a California plant.

According to the report, the layout of the rail lines inside the repair facility was “not ideal” because of a “very sharp” curve. The track where the accident occurred has since been realigned. The train was repaired and deemed ready for “further dynamic testing,” according to the report.

Brightline is expected to start the first leg of its service between West Palm Beach and Miami later this year.

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