Palm Beach Post: All Aboard Florida to higher safety standard
Posted on July 25, 2014
By Kimberly Miller
The Florida Department of Transportation is requiring All Aboard Florida to go beyond obligatory safety upgrades at dozens of Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast rail crossings — pricey additions that one federal expert said the company had previously refused to include.
Adding so-called “sealed corridor” improvements at train crossings will either meet requirements for quiet zones or nearly meet them, meaning municipalities will pay less for safety precautions that will allow trains to silence their horns at crossings.
All Aboard Florida, which plans to run 32 express passenger trains per day on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, has agreed to pay for the increased safety measures at crossings where trains will travel at speeds higher than 79 mph, said Dick Kane, communications director for the Florida Department of Transportation.
Speeds are expected to reach 79 mph between Miami and 30th Street in West Palm Beach, and then accelerate to 110 mph between 30th Street and Cocoa. Trains will travel as fast as 125 mph on tracks that All Aboard Florida will build between Cocoa and Orlando.
“Anything we can do to make it safer for pedestrians and automotive traffic is a win,” said Tequesta Mayor Abby Brennan, who is concerned about increases in noise, crossing delays and safety hazards that more trains will cause.
What constitutes a sealed corridor depends on the characteristics of each crossing. Some measures include adding four-quadrant gates, medians that prevent drivers from skirting around a single-arm gate, or a single-arm gate that extends across all lanes of travel.
Without increased safety measures, trains must sound their horns four times as they enter a crossing with each blast ranging between 92 and 110 decibels.
In February, Federal Railroad Administration engineer Frank Frey surveyed the 236 crossings between Miami and through St. Lucie County. Of those, he recommended that 57 crossings receive the added safety upgrades of a sealed corridor.
But Frey wrote in a March report that All Aboard Florida said it would not incorporate sealed corridor safety measures as they are only “guidelines, not regulations” as outlined in federal recommendations.
“In my professional opinion, I respectfully disagree with the project’s approach in that they are not exercising appropriate safety practices and reasonable care when designing for high-speed passenger rail service,” Frey wrote. “I explained to the entire diagnostic team how important it was to adopt the principles of the sealed corridor approach. However, it was clearly evident that the project was not pursuing such concept.”
Frey said All Aboard Florida estimated the additional safety measures would cost $47 million. But in a May interview, Michael Reininger, All Aboard Florida president and chief development officer, disputed the $47 million figure, saying there was no backup to substantiate that cost.
“All Aboard Florida continues its unwavering commitment to developing the safest railroad,” a company statement issued Thursday said. “Nothing has changed from our earlier statements that said we will fully comply with the improvements needed to achieve this surety while meeting all applicable regulations and laws.”
The Federal Railroad Administration began its assessment of crossings in Indian River County through Brevard County last week.
All Aboard Florida plans to start running trains from Miami to West Palm Beach in late 2016. Its West Palm Beach-to-Orlando route is scheduled to begin in early 2017. With 114 crossings and 170,690 people living within 1,000 feet of the tracks, Palm Beach County residents will be especially impacted by the increase in trains.
Frey’s report recommends sealed corridor measures for 19 crossings in Palm Beach County, including in the cities of Riviera Beach, Lake Park, Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter.
But crossings south of 30th Street in West Palm Beach may also get All Aboard Florida to add safety features to bring them to sealed corridor status, said West Palm Beach spokesman Elliot Cohen.
“We are continuing to talk with All Aboard Florida, and what hasn’t been determined is where the corridor will start,” Cohen said. “As to who is going to do it and what improvements are going where, we’re still waiting to see.”