February derailment has Brightline officials, opponents sparring

Posted on October 16, 2017

By: Matt Dixon, Politico

TALLAHASSEE — A derailment in February is spurring the most recent in a long line of sparring between officials of coming passenger rail services and Treasure Coast officials who oppose the plan.

Federal Railroad Administration officials say that $408,000 in damage was caused when a locomotive was leading an All Aboard Florida Brightline train in Palm Beach County. The derailment occurred at four miles per hour when the train was coming back from a “signaling compatibility test,” an FRA accident report stated.

Brightline, owned by Florida East Coast, has been planning for years the All Aboard Florida project, which eventually will connect Miami and Orlando via passenger rail. Officials have said the first phase is set to be operational by the end of the year.

The proposal has been vocally — and legally — challenged by Treasure Coast officials, who say the commuter rail service will bring a host of safety and cost concerns with little benefit to their region. Though opponents have lost a host of court battles and the project is scheduled to start later this year, they used the derailment to pounce on the program.

“It is unfortunate that Martin County is forced to spend taxpayer money to make sure our safety concerns are addressed at the state and federal levels,” said Ruth Holmes, senior assistant Martin County attorney.

Her comments came in a statement from CARE FL, an organization of regional officials that has served “shining a light on AAF’s less-than-transparent approach to building this ill-conceived and dangerous rail project.”

Ali Soule, a Brightline spokeswoman, said that the company did nothing wrong.

“As confirmed by the Federal Railroad Administration, Brightline followed all applicable rules by providing prompt notification about the minor incident that occurred on its private property,” she said. “This is another baseless fear tactic by Treasure Coast consultants.”

In an FRA letter sent in August after CARE FL reached out to federal officials about the incident, Thomas Herrmann, FRA’s director of technical oversight, said Brightline “promptly notified FRA officials of the incident.”

Company officials were heavily engaged early during the 2017 legislative session lobbying against FL SB386 (17R), which, among other things, would have required railroad companies to install some safety equipment, shifted responsibility for things like some maintenance and upkeep to the railroad companies and increased state reporting requirements for railroad companies.

The bill was not heard in the House and got one committee hearing in the Senate. During that March 14 hearing, the derailment incident was not discussed.

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