Local leaders consider added Brightline safety measures

The day after a man apparently committed suicide by standing in the path of a Brightline train, a group of municipal leaders met with Congresswoman Lois Frankel to discuss safety involving the new passenger rail service.

The unidentified man was standing on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks at Forest Hill Boulevard about 8:20 p.m. Sunday when he was struck and killed by a southbound Brightline train, West Palm Beach police said.

“Witnesses indicated that they pleaded with the adult male to move away from the oncoming train, but he refused,” said police spokesman Sgt. David Lefont.

The fatality was the second train strike in two days for the private passenger service. On Saturday, a Brightline train hit a car that was stopped on the tracks in Deerfield Beach, according to WSVN in Miami. No one was injured, the television station reported.

Before the weekend’s incidents, Brightline trains had hit at least five other people since starting service in January. Two of those people were killed and three were injured. The three who were injured included one suicide attempt.

In all of those cases, the pedestrians and drivers involved disregarded railroad warning devices.

At Monday’s meeting, Frankel said she was concerned that media coverage of Sunday’s suicide could lead to more deaths.

“I am worried that people who are trying to kill themselves, they realize this is the new shiny train to kill themselves,” Frankel told a group of about 20 municipal leaders and Brightline representatives.

The public suicides also take a toll on first responders and train operators, officials said.

“Witnessing that stays with you forever,” said Ali Soule, a Brightline spokeswoman.

Some city officials said more must be done to educate the public about safety around railroads before a quiet zone to silence train horns is established along Brightline’s route.

Safety upgrades needed to create the quiet zone are expected to be completed later this month. It is up to each city to file a “notice of establishment” with federal railroad officials to silence the horn blasts of both Brightline’s trains and other freight locomotives.

Under the quiet zone plan, 20 of 80 railroad crossings in Palm Beach County will receive no additional upgrades to keep motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians from maneuvering around lowered warning gates.

Less than half the crossings will have the most restrictive safety barrier, known as quad gates, to cover all lanes of traffic on both sides of the tracks. The gates, at big intersections such as Forest Hill Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue, create a fully closed barrier to block people from entering the crossing when a train is approaching.

Brightline has stepped up safety measures since starting service in January. The safety effort is part of a larger education campaign the company launched more than a year ago.

Soule said more must be done, and urged city officials to help with the effort.

“We have been out in the community for more than a year,” Soule said. “We can’t do it ourselves. We need the help of everybody in here.”

That help could include asking local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to issue warnings and tickets to drivers and pedestrians who ignore railroad warning devices or stop on the tracks. Some at the meeting also suggested using red light cameras to discourage drivers from stopping on the tracks.

Officials also discussed the possibility of applying for a federal grant to pay for additional safety features. The Federal Railroad Administration announced in February that $73 million in grant money has been made available to help pay for projects that strengthen intercity passenger rail or boost safety initiatives.

Delray Beach City Manager Mark Lauzier said fencing could be installed along the FEC corridor through the city’s downtown to keep pedestrians off the tracks in areas where there isn’t a crossing.

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