By Sallie James
When it comes to fast and furious, Brightline — Florida’s neon-yellow passenger express train service — has proved to be the deadliest train system per mile in America.
According to an Associated Press analysis of Federal Railroad Administration records for the nation’s 821 railroads, 41 people have been killed by Brightline trains since July 2017, when someone died during a railroad test run.
Brightline’s death rate — of more than one person per month since it began operating — equals about one death per every 29,000 miles the trains have traveled, the study showed.
“This is something we obsess about. … It’s tragic,” Brightline President Patrick Goddard told the AP. “There is nothing we want more than for that number to go to zero.”
Brightline, soon to be Virgin Trains, said it planned to match any amount provided in a $500,000 appropriations request in a bill from state Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, aimed at suicide prevention. The money would go to the 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast Helpline.
Tri-Rail’s commuter service had one death about every 110,000 miles, the AP reported. Most other urban passenger lines average about 100,000 miles per fatality, some many times that, the AP said.
British billionaire Richard Branson of the Virgin Group announced last year a partnership with Brightline that included putting the Virgin name on the trains. Virgin Group owns less than 2% of the rail company, according to regulatory filings.
Brightline runs about 17 trains each way daily between Miami and West Palm Beach and plans to expand another 170 miles to Orlando by 2022. The trains speed up to 79 mph through some of the state’s most-densely populated areas.
The Federal Railroad Administration said U.S. trains strike more than 800 people annually, with an average of about 2.5 daily. About 500 are suspected suicides.
Michael Hicks, Brightline media relations director, called the incidents “tragic” but “all the result of deliberate, unlawful actions to ignore warning signs or safety barriers.”
“The vast majority of incidents involving our trains have been suicides or are drug related. We have and will continue to take a leadership role in raising awareness for rail safety and mental health issues in our community,” Hicks said.
“We are rolling out innovative new technologies at crossings and putting in place fencing and landscaping to serve as barriers and reminders to stay off the tracks. ... We have run thousands of safety PSAs, distributed thousands of safety materials, worked with local law enforcement and schools,” he said.
“Most importantly we implore people to stay off the tracks and to treat rail safety warnings no different than red lights or stop signs.”