It’s fair to say that passenger rail infrastructure in the United States is lacking. Projects outside the northeastern U.S. to expand commuter and inter-city rail networks are few and far between. One of those fledging rail services has had another fatal incident in South Florida.
Earlier this week, two people died after a Brightline train collided with their car in Aventura, Florida, 18 miles north of Miami. Surveillance camera footage shows the vehicle driving around down railroad crossing gates and getting stuck on the tracks briefly before being struck by the train.
The collision took place at 6 a.m. last Thursday, and there were witnesses. Caesar Tavares, a nearby resident, told WSVN, “It was hard to see. I knew right away the train hit somebody because it was real loud. The car was rolling. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Then all of a sudden it stopped.”
Brightline emphasized that the collision directly resulted from the driver’s actions. It is difficult to disagree with the statement based on the camera footage. A recent effort by Brightline to improve safety at railroad crossings included installing a camera system of their own to monitor crossings in North Miami Beach. It found that over 500 cars drove around the railroad’s down barriers.
While no driver should be going around down barriers, it seems like a hazard to have such an abundance of level crossings in a major metropolitan area on a commuter railroad that hopes to operate a high-speed service. The collision site in Aventura is in a reasonably busy area, located less than a mile from Aventura Hospital and Gulfstream Park horse track and casino.
Brightline currently provides passenger rail service between Miami to West Palm Beach, with an extension to Orlando scheduled to open in 2023. The extension’s new right-of-way will allow the railroad to reach speeds of 125 mph. The railroad’s existing right-of-way in South Florida is still owned by a freight railroad.
Despite the $1.5 billion spent upgrading the track for passenger service, Brightline was deemed America’s deadliest railroad by the AP on a per-track-mile basis in 2019. Over 40 people were killed on Brightline’s tracks between July 2017 and November 2019. It’s exceedingly clear that no level crossing is better than the safest level crossing.