All Aboard’s Brightline won’t start until track upgrades finshed

All Aboard Florida’s Brightline stations in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale may look like they’re ready to open, but the company can’t start shuttling passengers until it completes a series of safety upgrades along the train tracks that connect the two buildings.

Although government officials in Palm Beach and Broward counties have signed off on the use of the stations — issuing certificates of occupancy for both buildings — work continues on rail signals and crossings along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.

The company had said it planned to launch its passenger service in late summer or early fall, but this month Brightline officials announced their timeline now calls for trains to start running “by the end of the year.”

Brightline: West Palm to Miami by year’s end

Before service can begin, Brightline must complete a series of safety upgrades along the FEC corridor, including the installation of a new signal system that communicates with approaching trains, triggers gate openings and closings, and regulates train-crossing times.

In addition to those features, the Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Organization has pledged more than $6 million for a number of other safety improvements that are required before a “quiet zone” to silence train horns can be established along the FEC tracks. The quiet zone, which is expected to be completed around the time Brightline starts service, will silence the horns of both passenger and fright trains.

RELATED: Officials working for miles-long ‘quiet zone’ to silence train horns

Over the last few months, off-duty officers and safety personnel have been periodically positioned at rail crossings across parts of Palm Beach County as crews complete the safety improvements. While the upgrades are underway, safety officials have been blocking rail crossings before a train’s arrival and as it moves through the intersection.

At times, traffic has been delayed by slow moving trains or crews testing gate arms at crossings — slowdowns that have frustrated motorists along the route.

More work is expected to be completed in early September along the FEC corridor between Lake Worth and Hypoluxo. Signals and equipment at crossings through parts of Boynton Beach will be upgraded after Labor Day, officials said.

Meanwhile, signal testing along the tracks continues, and motorists between West Palm Beach and Boca Raton can expected intermittent delays while that work is completed.

Although Brightline isn’t shuttling passengers yet, the company’s four trains have been seen traveling along the FEC tracks between West Palm Beach and Miami. Officials say residents can expect more train sightings.

“Over the coming weeks there will be an increased frequency of Brightline trains operating in the corridor as they test the system and train the crew,” said Ali Soule, the company’s public affairs director.

Safety is the company’s top priority, and Soule said it is important that motorists “always anticipate” that a train could be nearing an intersection.

For years, the FEC line had one set of tracks that was used only by freight trains. Brightline required the construction of a second set of tracks — an addition that will allow two trains to pass each other at the same time and mix freight and passenger traffic.

Brightline’s passenger trains will move faster than freight traffic. The company’s trains are expected to reach speeds of up to 79 mph between Miami and West Palm Beach. 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.

If a train crosses an intersection and the railroad gates remain down, another train could be approaching the area, officials said.

“If the gates are down, that means stop,” Soule said.

Brightline also has teamed up with community leaders to try to educate motorists and children about train safety.

The company in April launched a campaign designed to warn students and those living near the Florida East Coast Railway corridor about the dangers of walking along train tracks. Brightline has asked cities along the route to help promote the campaign, part of a national program called Operation Lifesaver, which is designed to reduce collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail crossings and prevent trespassing on or near railroad tracks.

This summer the company conducted a train safety workshop for police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers from Broward and Palm Beach counties.

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