The Palm Beach Post – Train system upgrades coming, FEC pledges

Posted on March 16, 2015

Florida East Coast Railway executives have promised procedural changes and upgrades to train alert systems in response to a Saturday malfunction that left all three Tequesta crossings blocked for more than an hour and delayed an ambulance from getting to Jupiter Medical Center.


In a letter sent Friday to Village of Tequesta Mayor Abby Brennan, FECR Senior Vice President Robert Ledoux apologized for the 90-minute snarl caused by an electrical issue that prevented the aging Loxahatchee River drawbridge from locking in place.


He said operating rule changes that became effective Wednesday will require all southbound trains to stop before Riverside Drive if they do not receive a clear signal that the bridge is down, leaving the southernmost crossing in the village open to traffic.


The FECR signal department will also install a second bridge indication light north of Riverside Drive as a redundant alert to train engineers to stop prior to reaching the road, and, effective Friday, Tequesta officials are on FECR’s notification list for any blocked crossings within the city.


“The (bridge) repair was addressed and this particular problem should not occur in the future,” Ledoux wrote.


Brennan, who wrote a stern letter to Ledoux after Saturday’s debacle, said she is pleased with the swift response and the new policy to contact the village’s emergency dispatch center when a crossing is blocked.


But, she stressed that the measures are just a stop gap, and that the bridge failures will need to be addressed before All Aboard Florida begins running 32 passenger trains per day on the FEC line.


“This has happened before, but it’s just started to be more and more and 18 months ago, the streets were blocked for over three hours,” Brennan said. “This is what I feared when we first heard about All Aboard Florida — taxing that bridge so much more when it was already breaking down.”


All Aboard Florida, an affiliate of FECR under parent company Florida East Coast Industries, will run trains from Miami to Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.


Three railroad drawbridges that span the Intracoastal, including the Loxahatchee River Bridge, have been a prime concern of boaters who queue up precariously when the bridge is lowered for a train to pass.


Saturday’s incident shows that it’s not just mariners who are stopped when the bridge fails.


In Brennan’s letter she describes a car accident that occurred Saturday morning as the train blocked all three rail crossings. One person was injured. The accident victim was taken to Jupiter Medical Center. But a trip that should have lasted just five minutes, took 47 minutes because of the train snarl.


“It is only a matter of time before this unacceptable, and avoidable scenario caused by your railroad will literally cost lives,” Brennan wrote.


All Aboard Florida has maintained that its plan will pour tens of millions of dollars into upgrading the FEC tracks, safety equipment, crossing mechanisms and drawbridges. The passenger trains, which will travel up to 110 mph north of West Palm Beach, will clear crossings in less than 60 seconds.


Lynn Martenstein, vice president for All Aboard Florida corporate communications, also said the company is “committed to working with first responders and emergency personnel throughout the corridor.”


Brennan said that Tequesta officials were not called by Florida East Coast Railway when the bridge malfunctioned Saturday.

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