To stem rail train deaths, West Palm paints sidewalk safety signs

Updated Jan 29, 2018
West Palm Beach city employees paint safety signs to downtown sidewalks near a Brightline railway crossing. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

West Palm Beach rolled out a “See Track? Think Train” sidewalk sign campaign Monday to wake up pedestrians to the dangers of trains trisecting the town at high speed.

Mayor Jeri Muoio delivered the news during a drizzle at Clematis Street and Quadrille Boulevard, near the city’s new Brightline station, announcing the additional safety measure in the wake of deaths that followed the service’s start-up this month. City workers stenciled the first slogan on the sidewalk in an area where barricades lower to stop cars but don’t extend to block pedestrians.

The signs will be painted at Brightline crossings, starting downtown, but also at the Tri-Rail tracks that parallel them a few blocks to the west.

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Brightline was supposed to install special safety features in advance of its opening to enable the establishment of a Quiet Zone in the city, where its 70 mph trains wouldn’t have to blast horns while speeding to and from Fort Lauderdale.

To city hall’s chagrin, the railway announced just before opening day that that work wouldn’t be completed for two months or more, so horns are blowing to warn motorists and pedestrians off the tracks, annoying nearby homeowners but not scaring some from chancing runs around the barriers. In a city used to lumbering freight trains, some people have been driving, bicycling or walking around barriers even as trains approach.

In the eight-day span starting the day before public service began, Brightline trains hit three people, two of them fatally. Two others were hit before the start-up, including one suicide. A video posted on YouTube shows a truck almost getting hit by a Brightline train after its driver ignored warning devices and drove around a crossing gate. Brightline runs 30 trains a day and the Miami service is scheduled to start within two months.

READ: What happens when a train strikes a pedestrian?

The city is picking up the cost of the signs, which officials say are nominal, amounting to a stencil, paint and labor. “It’s a public service for us,” Muoio said.

The public awareness campaign also will include social media messages, press releases and postings on the city website, WPB.org.

The sidewalk signs will start downtown and be completed in the next few weeks, because that’s where the most people are crossing, Deputy City Administrator Scott Kelly said. After that, the signs will be painted where there are sidewalks at crossings from north of downtown to the south, he said.

As federal regulators did not require Brightline to install Quiet Zone safety hardware at every intersection, the city will study the 13 intersections not slated for improvements, to see if there are cost-efficient fixes it can make as money becomes available, Kelly said.

A four-armed set of closing gates, for example, can cost $400,000 but for much less the city can install median curbs to keep cars that are lined up at a closed gate from pulling into the left lane to try go around, he said. In some cases, if a street is scheduled for repaving, it makes sense to add safety measures like that at the same time to save money, he added.