The Palm Beach Post: Jupiter Medical’s first responders warn All Aboard Florida could delay them

Posted on October 8, 2014

JUPITER — All Aboard Florida’s express passenger trains would make it more difficult for emergency crews and ambulance drivers to reach Jupiter Medical Center, creating a public safety hazard for nearby residents and accident victims, hospital officials and local leaders warned Tuesday.

John Couris, president and CEO of Jupiter Medical Center, said the hospital is concerned All Aboard Florida’s plan to add 32 trains a day to the Florida East Coast Railway tracks could delay first responders’ efforts to get critically injured or sick patients to the hospital’s emergency room.

The FEC tracks are just east of Jupiter Medical, which serves as the main emergency center for Tequesta residents. Roughly 20 percent of emergency room patients reach the hospital by ambulance, officials said.

“Our concerns center around response times to our emergency room,” Couris said. “Seconds matter in every emergency.”

On average, Jupiter Medical Center receives more than 6,400 ambulance runs each year. Of those, roughly 11 percent come from Tequesta, hospital officials said.

“The hospital is not opposed to transportation improvements for the State of Florida that are well thought out and that involve everyone, but we have some real concerns around the public safety aspects of what they are proposing to do,” Couris said.

Couris was one of a handful of local leaders and elected officials who spoke out against All Aboard Florida at a news conference held Tuesday by CitizensAgainst Rail Expansion, or CARE, a coalition of Treasure Coast and Jupiter residents opposed to All Aboard Florida’s project. Those in attendance included U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, state Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Hobe Sound, and Tequesta Mayor Abby Brennan.

CARE members said Tuesday that trains could block railroad crossings, leaving ambulance drivers with two options: waiting for the train to clear the intersection or finding a longer alternative to reach the hospital.

Michael Collins, medical director of emergency services at Jupiter Medical Center, used a stop watch to make his point. Collins held up the watch for eight seconds while the crowd sat quietly.

“Sometimes 8 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds is all we have to save a life in the emergency department,” Collins said after stopping the clock. “I am very concerned about multiple trains going through our community starting traffic jams that keep ambulances from getting to us.”

While ambulance drivers can use lights and sirens to get around other vehicles, the hospital’s staff can’t, making it more difficult for them to reach the facility if a train causes a traffic jam, Collins warned.

“I feel that All Aboard Florida needs to address these issues,” Collins said. “They need to explain what their plan is to prevent communities from being cut off from their hospitals.”

All Aboard Florida on Tuesday pointed to a draft environmental study published by the Federal Railroad Administration last month that found the project will benefit public health, safety and security. All Aboard Florida’s plan would add two passenger trains an hour to the FEC tracks. Those trains would take less than 50 seconds to clear an intersection, the company said.

“We are upgrading every grade crossing and installing new signalization and Positive Train Control, which will result in decreased wait times at grade crossings and increased efficiencies,” All Aboard Florida said in a statement released Tuesday. “As is the case around the nation — and in South Florida where more than 50 TriRail trains operate on the South Florida Rail Corridor — we will work with emergency personnel to conduct joint trainings, ensure impacts are minimized and coordination occurs at every level.”

All Aboard Florida President and Chief Development Officer Michael Reininger said the company will reach out to Jupiter Medical Center.

Communication between first responders and the railroad will be enhanced with the addition of All Aboard Florida because Emergency vehicle drivers will be able to contact the train operator if there is a concern about a delay, Reininger said.

“They could call us and say they need the train to stop or slow down,” Reininger said.

All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 passenger trains a day between Miami and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The express trains will stop in the downtown areas of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and at Orlando International Airport. Trains are expected to travel between Miami and Orlando in roughly three hours.

At the news conference Tuesday, officials pointed to Magar, a state representative who suffered a mild stroke in January while in Tallahassee. Magar spent six weeks recovering at her Martin County home, and she frequently visited Jupiter Medical Center.

Magar said a train stuck on the tracks near Tequesta this spring turned what should have been a 10-minute drive to the hospital into an hour-long commute. Magar said she was forced to take a much longer detour to reach the facility.

“I sat there thinking, ‘What if this was my episode?’ ” Magar said. “It is not highly unusual for a train to be stuck.”

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