NEW: Brightline adds safety features at crossings

5:49 p.m Monday, Jan. 22, 2018 Local
Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post
Brightline has placed electronic signs at some of the intersections of the FEC tracks. This sign on Lucerne in Lake Worth warns pedestrians to "stay off train tracks" and that there are "more & faster trains." (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Brightline has positioned large electronic signs at several busy rail crossings along its route to warn the public that its new express trains move faster than other rail traffic and to urge people to stay off the tracks when the guard gates go down.

Brightline officials said they plan to put 20 signs at crossings between the company’s two stations in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Those signs will be periodically moved to other crossings along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks as part of a new safety awareness campaign launched by Brightline on Friday following two recent deaths involving the private rail venture’s trains.

RELATED: Call for safer railroad crossings could cost Brightline $350 million

The company also plans to deploy a team of “safety ambassadors” to key intersections in the coming days to remind pedestrians and motorists to stay off the tracks when a train is approaching. During the weekend, officials said the ambassadors visited a number of grocery stores, community events and other gathering places to pass out safety information.

Since Jan. 12, the day before the company began shuttling paying passengers, Brightline’s trains have hit three people. In all three incidents, police said those struck did not heed warning lights and crossing gates positioned at the intersections.

On Friday, a pedestrian was hit by the train after attempting to cross the train tracks at Northeast Third Avenue and North Flagler Drive in Fort Lauderdale when the gates were down. The person’s injuries were not life-threatening, police said.

The accident occurred just hours after Brightline’s President and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Goddard, during a press conference to announce new safety and public education initiatives, urged the public to stay off the tracks.

On Wednesday, 51-year-old Jeffrey King was hit and killed by a northbound Brightline train when he pedaled his bicycle around the gates near the Florida East Coast Railway crossing about 4:30 p.m. on Ocean Avenue.

On Jan. 12, 32-year-old Melissa Lavell was hit and killed near the intersection of Northeast Sixth Avenue in Boynton Beach. Witnesses told police she attempted to beat the train when the gates were down.

It is illegal to go around railroad guard gates or to stop a car on the train tracks.

Drivers who maneuver around railroad barriers could be fined $166 and receive three points on their license. Pedestrians who ignore railroad warning signals can be fined $64.50, regardless of their age or whether they have a license.

It is also illegal to walk along the railroad tracks. Those who do can be charged with a misdemeanor for trespassing.

Messages placed on Brightline’s signs during the weekend warned the public that there are “more & faster trains” along the Florida East Coast Railway line and urge drivers and motorists to “stay off train tracks.”

During the week,Brightline runs 10 round-trip trains a day between its stations in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. There are nine round-trip trains on the weekends

The company’s trains operate at speeds up to 79 mph on the FEC tracks, much faster than the freight locomotives that travel on the same line.

In the coming months, Brightline plans to extend its service to downtown Miami.

Treasure Coast residents have been fighting to block the company’s second phase, which would run trains between South Florida and Orlando. Brightline’s trains are expected to reach speeds of 110 mph between West Palm Beach and Cocoa and 125mph between Cocoa and Orlando.

Indian River County officials called on Gov. Rick Scott on Monday to ask state transportation officials to investigate All Aboard Florida’s Brightline, pointing to the recent accidents and deaths following the company’s launch.

“These problems will only be exacerbated when AAF/Brightline operates up to 110 mph in Phase II from West Palm Beach, through the Treasure Coast to Orlando,” Peter O’Bryan, the chairman of the Indian River County Commission wrote in the letter.

Meanwhile, a senate committee will hold a workshop meeting on Tuesday to discuss a bill filled by State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, that would put more regulations on express and high-speed trains such as Brightline.

The bill (SB 572) would require rail companies operating trains at speeds in excess of 80 mph, including the Brightline project, to install safety features, cover the cost of maintaining rail crossings, pay for fencing along sections of tracks where pedestrians could be at risk, and help train first responders in the event of an accident involving passenger trains or hazardous materials.