Sun Sentinel: Coast Guard investigating operations of New River railroad drawbridge
Posted on July 26, 2018
By: Sun Sentinel
The Coast Guard has opened an investigation into the operation of the railroad drawbridge in downtown Fort Lauderdale, where the new Brightline train service has led the bridge to be lowered more frequently, blocking boat traffic.
The bridge leaves only four feet of clearance when lowered to allow trains to cross the river, barring access to the ocean for the busy marinas and shipyards to the west.
Under Coast Guard rules designed to maintain boating access, the bridge can’t be lowered more than a total of 60 minutes out of every two-hour period. The Coast Guard had encouraged boaters to report any possible violations.
“Right now we have an ongoing investigation of violations” involving the operation of the New River drawbridge, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Jonathan Lally, a spokesman for the agency.
He said the investigation concerned the actions of the bridge’s owner, Florida East Coast Railway. A spokesman for FEC, which also owns Brightline, did not respond to a request for comment.
Ali Soule, spokeswoman for Brightline, said, “We are not aware of an investigation and are in regular contact with the Coast Guard.”
But she said Brightline has taken several steps to minimize the bridge’s interference with boat traffic. These include placing monitors on the bridge who can notify the marine industry of impending closures, designing its schedule so that northbound and southbound trains cross during one lowering of the bridge and working on a mobile app that will provide information on bridge closures.
“Brightline is working closely with Florida East Coast Railway, our train dispatch partner, Florida DispatchCo, and the U.S. Coast Guard, to minimize closures and to provide notice to the U.S. Coast Guard and the marine community of anticipated closures,” she said.
Until this year, the bridge handled only freight trains. But then the Brightline commuter service started, forcing the 40-year-old bridge to be lowered more frequently. The service added 11 round-trip train trips to the tracks per weekday, a number that will rise to 16 in August.
Fort Lauderdale is a world center of the marine industry, with shipyards and boating specialty businesses lining the New River and nearby waterways. Many of these stand on Marina Mile, a stretch of State Road 84 that lies west of the railroad bridge.
“The river is the lifeblood of this industry,” said Bob Roscioli, whose Roscioli Yachting Center occupies 14 acres on Marina Mile. “When you clog that river, boats can’t come in; boats can’t come out. That river is the most important thing for all the shipyards west of the railroad. When we can’t make it down the river because the bridge is constantly opening and shutting and only open a few minutes an hour, then that’s not good for us.”
Brightline started operating in January, with service between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Its trains began crossing the railroad bridge for regular service in May, when service was extended to Miami.
Phil Purcell, president of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, said boaters have reported violations to the Coast Guard. Although the Brightline service has led the bridge to come down more frequently, he said most of the problems are from the freight trains.
While his organization will continue to press for the enforcement of the bridge regulations, he said the ultimate solution lay in the construction of a new bridge across the river to handle commuter trains. He said the boating industry wanted the commuter line to be successful, but not at the expense of an industry that accounts for thousands of jobs.
“If we did a new bridge for commuter over the river, you’d eliminate 50 closings of gates every day,” he said. “You’d make a world class city, you’d be at the center of regionalism, you’d be able to create something that generations down the road would be proud of, and equally important, you’d insure that you’d keep an industry and don’t do harm to it.”
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis advocates a different solution, a railroad tunnel under the river that would eliminate the need for the FEC bridge…