Letters: Brightline accidents tragic, but is railway really to blame?

YOUR VIEWS


BRIGHTLINE, the innovative high-speed passenger rail service, has been in operation for only about a week and a half, and already three people have been hit by trains. Tragically, two of them died.

You’ve sent us a flood of letters and emails about it — nearly 100 in all.

As you’ll see below, most put the blame not on the railway but on the decision-making of people who cross the tracks — a change of tone from the heavy public criticism Brightline has taken for months, while it was in the planning stages, over everything from finances to noise to safety.

We’ve removed some of this page’s usual features today to publish as many letters as we can. Still more can be found online at myPalmBeachPost.com.

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REGARDING THE Palm Beach Post article, “Brightline Death Is Second In Boynton,” (Thursday), these deaths are both tragedies, and my sympathies go out to the victims and their families.

That said, there needs to be some acceptance of responsibility. The article and most of the people interviewed seem to be placing the entire blame on the “unsafe” Brightline train. There’s even a city commissioner calling for Brightline to stop all operations until safety questions are answered.

Let me see if I understand the situation here. In both cases, the people decided to go around safety gates that were in the down position, with flashing red lights, to try to beat an oncoming train.

Aren’t we taught, from when we were children, that a red light means “stop”? How can they not be completely responsible for their accidental deaths?

Again, I am very sorry for their loss, and that of their families, but when are we going to start taking personal responsibility for our own actions? We have become a country that needs to find anyone but ourselves to blame. And as for sympathy, think of the train engineers and what they must be feeling, and what they will feel for years to come.

Just a note here, I’m not a fan of the Brightline train. I think it’s a large amount of money (a good amount of it taxpayers’) for very limited service and wasn’t really needed. Even so, I feel they are being unfairly accused of being entirely at fault in these instances.

ROBERT MAYER, BOYNTON BEACH

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RELATED: Christie commentary: Please, just stop trying to beat the train

HOW MANY PEOPLE have to be killed or injured before Brightline and our elected officials realize something is wrong? Does it really make sense to have high-speed rail service run through the most heavily populated areas in Florida, especially when there are railroad tracks farther to the west that run through unpopulated farmlands?

Who really believes that a “public education initiative” to highlight the dangers of crossing railroad tracks will solve the problem? I see people stopping their cars on the tracks every day. It’s obvious that this is risky behavior, apparently not to the folks who walk across the tracks, ride their bikes across the tracks, and put their cars on the tracks while waiting for a traffic light to change.

The only solution is to move the train tracks away from heavily populated areas. Brightline, go west.

BELINDA EICHLER, JUPITER

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I UNDERSTAND that certain things must be in place for safety reasons at train crossings, but I somehow fail to see how Brightline can be responsible for people’s stupidity.

There have been two deaths blamed on Brightline. However, both reports indicated that the “victims” went around the gates that come down, flash red and usually have a bell ringing to prevent just that behavior.

And keep in mind the current controversy surrounding Brightline’s very loud train horns and its failure to respect the “quiet zones.” I’m certain the train’s horn was blaring at these crossings. I know I can hear the horns from my home a half-mile away from the nearest crossing at all hours, day and night.

The train crossings have been in the same place for years. Trains have traveled these tracks every day, many times a day, and have for years, mostly without incident. If a person fails to heed these warnings as they approach the train tracks, Brightline cannot be to blame, nor can it be accused of not putting sufficient safety measures in place, simply because it is a high-speed train system.

Trains follow a stationary track — it is impossible for any train to swerve to avoid a collision by simple virtue that it is a train on a track. Even a slow-moving train would be unable to slow down in time to avoid hitting someone who crosses the barriers at a train crossing.

I’m not without sympathy for the families of these folks, but people need to take responsibility for their own actions. If you do something careless, you sometimes pay the piper and sometimes the price is steep indeed.

TINA CASAZZA, LAKE WORTH

***

RELATED: Brightline adds safety features at crossings

MY HUSBAND and I moved to Florida permanently five years ago from East Windsor, Conn. The train passed across the Connecticut River from our condo several times a day. Every day for 30 years we both had to cross the river and the train tracks to get to work.

The occasional suicide attempt by the train was not the norm, but it did happen. Very unfortunate.

In no way are we equating what happened in Florida with our life experiences with the railroad in Connecticut. But the simple fact remains, one cannot be hit by a train unless one is on the train tracks. A multiton machine that travels between two rails at a very high rate of speed is frankly very difficult to ignore.

The tracks are exactly 4-feet-8½-inches apart. This represents a finite space in which the train travels. You can be anywhere on Earth and not be hit by a train unless you are on the train tracks.

We mean no disrespect. With the multiple signs leading to a train crossing, the gate lowering to halt cars, the flashing lights and a train’s powerful noise, it’s quite difficult to understand how these multiple warnings could go unnoticed.

For 30 years we stayed off the train tracks, and we are still here. Common sense and being responsible for one’s actions go a long way.

KAREN BRETON, BOYNTON BEACH

***

A PRIMARY consideration is that we are not accustomed to high-speed trains in Palm Beach County.

It has been noted that the same amount of warning is given for standard and high-speed trains, i.e., the trains arrive at the crossing in the same length of time after the gates go down and the warning lights begin flashing.

This means that the Brightline locomotive is much farther from the crossing when the gate drops because the Brightline train is traveling much faster than the standard train. Not realizing the distant locomotive is a high-speed train, one could assume that he or she could easily get across the crossing before the train arrives because it is so far away.

Yes, a key is to never ignore a railroad crossing warning system. But by improving one’s recognition that the approaching locomotive is traveling at high speed, the person waiting at the crossing would be much more cautious.

The headlights on the Brightline locomotive are different from other locomotives. Perhaps the headlights can be made even more distinctive to better allow recognition of a high-speed train. Perhaps the crossing warning systems can identify the approach of a high-speed train using a special signal.

Articles seeking improved community awareness are well-targeted, but help with identifying the speed of approaching locomotives would increase caution and our safety as a part of those communications.

TOM FARMER, PALM BEACH

***

TWO DEATHS in a short time are tragic. People not paying attention to down gates, lights and the loud noise of a train, especially when they try to “jump ship” and unfortunately play a death game. Trains are not a new item; they are a convenience.

The trains need to stop running until people understand the danger they impose. There need to be more lights, flashing lights, horns and fear.

Fix the problems, make the trains’ awareness better known, have meetings and billboards until every resident understands what happened and how to avoid any further disasters.

MARY BURR, BOYNTON BEACH

***

RELATED: Christie commentary: Brightline shines light on what could be in SoFla

MY SINCERE sympathy is with the families of those who have recently been killed while crossing the train tracks, but I have a real problem understanding why people are condemning Brightline.

Each one of these accidents has happened when the person involved ignored all the prescribed warning signs which were in place, went onto the tracks in the path of an oncoming train and so, tragically, was killed. How can this be the fault of Brightline?

GWEN MCQUEEN, PALM BEACH

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TWO PEOPLE killed by the Brightline train in one week. That’s unthinkable but predictable. Racing through dozens of railroad crossings at speeds anywhere from 79 mph to 110 mph from West Palm Beach to Orlando, Brightline trains will cause more deaths for very simple reasons.

People will always try to “beat the train” and go around the crossing gate. It’s human nature. And safety signs may go ignored by persons who are illiterate or don’t read English. Furthermore, high-speed trains are more lethal than the noisy, lumbering freight-haulers because the speed demons catch the unwary by surprise.

Moreover, in comparison with the Japanese, the officials who direct the Brightline operation are rank amateurs at running a bullet train. The first such train in the world was developed in that Asian nation in 1964. Since then, they have never had a death associated with their high-speed trains.

Why such a good safety record? There are many reasons why, but among them is the fact that bullet train tracks are dedicated solely to them and are crossing-free.

For these reasons, unfortunately, I see a very bleak future for our own home-grown high-speed train.

LAURA HENNING, PALM BEACH GARDENS

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THE MEDIA have been pounding Brightline about the deaths connected to the new upstart. Politicians want it shut down until safety issues are resolved.

Here is the reality: Tri-Rail, FEC trains, now Brightline have issues with trains-vs.-people deaths. This is a people problem, not a train problem.

As my husband quotes his father each time, “Trains don’t chase people down alleys.”

Until people stop using train tracks as a sidewalk, stop crossing tracks as shortcuts, stop going around downed gates and stop their cars on the rail track while driving, there will be deaths.

When you make bad choices you may suffer the consequences. To the politicians, you can not legislate human behavior.

SHEREN KIRK, WEST PALM BEACH

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SINCE BRIGHTLINE’S launch, two people have died and lawmakers are capitalizing on these deaths as a way to prove high-speed rail doesn’t belong in Florida. And each of these accidents, the safety arms were down, the lights were flashing, and the person chose by their own will to cross the safety arms.

It isn’t Brightline’s fault people think they can outrun a train. It isn’t Brightline’s fault people are ignoring the safety strategies put in place.

While it is a tragedy these people lost their lives, it doesn’t mean high-speed rail doesn’t belong in Florida. Progress is good for our community. Progress brings greater infrastructure to our community and having Brightline start service from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale is some of the best progress I’ve seen in a while.

CHUCK MADDOX, LAKE WORTH

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THE INDIVIDUALS who decide to circumvent the crossing gates at railroad crossings are no different than the drivers running red lights at intersections.

As I see it, the only difference is that the ones who are killed by a train just suffer a shorter length of time than those who become hospitalized for who knows how long with often severe and permanent damages to their body and the mental anguish in knowing when they’ve killed another innocent person.

In both cases, their flagrant disregard for the law (and not the vehicle) is the issue. The individuals killed by the train recently were adults.

Brightline will likely serve millions of passengers well, while the offenders have only served to provide those they leave behind with much anguish. Every time they cross a set of tracks the memory of the horror will come to their mind.

LEE-JOHN SOBERING, GREENACRES

***

“NELSON ASKS for federal probe, city leader seeks to halt service.”

I am not a fan of the Brightline train program but I am definitely not a fan of deadly behaviors. In both cases, the gates were down and the lights were flashing, yet two individuals decided to disobey the warnings and tried to cross the tracks.

“Jim Kovalsky, the president of the Florida East Coast Railway Society, came to the scene and called for better education around railroad crossings as well as more enforcement from police.”

What? Imagine applying this same thinking to someone running a red light at an intersection and resulting in a car death. I’ll bet we learned in the first grade about safety around train crossings.

I don’t have a clue how “more enforcement from police” is going to stop someone from displaying and practicing a deadly behavior.

HARRY WINKLER, WEST PALM BEACH

***

I AM NO advocate for the Brightline train and have no intention of using their service.

But I am concerned over the discussion of its safety features and the three recent incidents, two of which were fatal.

In all three incidents, the guard gates were down and individuals attempted to circumvent the safety barriers designed to warn and protect both motorists and pedestrians.

In other words, all three incidents were caused by poor decision-making on the part of the injured or killed. We can’t blame Brightline for that.

RON GAMBOLATI, WEST PALM BEACH

***

FAMILIES INVOLVED in the loss of life involving trains have a right to and need time to grieve. I don’t think it’s fair for certain people to use such incidents to help foster efforts to create a negative perception of Brightline.

I grew up and have lived near the Florida East Coast tracks in Palm Beach County since the early 1970s, and have witnessed drivers and pedestrians disregarding activated train-crossing signals my entire life.

Despite what I interpret as massive press coverage and public awareness of Brightline over the past several years — including meetings with the general public, temporary closings of crossings to build double tracks, crews installing new gates, and weeks of test runs with actual Brightline trains — some people now think there needs to be more public awareness of Brightline.

As reported by the Palm Beach Post, last year Tri-Rail recorded the highest fatality rate (22 people) in the past 18 years on the CSX tracks they operate on in South Florida, so train fatalities are not unique to the FEC tracks.

As South Florida continues to grow, trains will be a necessity unless everyone wants to sit at home and never go anywhere due to traffic gridlock. If there needs to be more public awareness and law enforcement, then let’s do it. However, let’s all not forget that if we make a decision to proceed through activated train signals, we are accepting a huge risk to our personal safety.

MIKE ALLISON, LAKE WORTH

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MIGHT THE installation of cameras monitored at some remote facility (and perhaps by Brightline train engineers), coupled with speakers at railroad crossings, to warn pedestrians or vehicles in danger, assist in the prevention of accidents?

The technology is certainly available and it appears something is needed.

RICHARD IRONS, PALM BEACH GARDENS

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REGARDING U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, and his moronic tweet, “Brightline trains are killing people and we need to stop train service to correct ‘massive safety flaws’”:

Trains aren’t killing people. People are killing themselves by going around barriers, and disregarding flashing lights and bells going off. An unbelievable attempt at logic here.

DAVID SZERLAG, HIGHLAND BEACH



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