Brightline’s passenger rail service began testing in Miami-Dade County on Wednesday, with plans to launch regular service from Fort Lauderdale to Downtown Miami in the coming weeks, the company’s president and chief operating officer told reporters.
The company’s higher-speed trains have been running from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale along the Florida East Coast Railway since January. The company plans to expand to Orlando in the coming years.
Testing of the new signal-system upgrades, taking place between south of downtown Fort Lauderdale and 71st Street and Northeast Miami Court in Miami, involves gauging signals at railroad crossings and running trains through the crossings at various speeds, Brightline’s Patrick Goddard said.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who joined Goddard and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez at Wednesday’s press conference, told reporters that regular trips to Miami Central Station will hopefully begin by early May.
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Mayor Suarez said the rail line would be a “game changer” in Miami’s perception among big corporations seeking to open up shop in the city.
“It helps us along the path of changing our trajectory from being simply a gateway city to being a global city,” Suarez said. “I know a lot of major companies throughout the U.S. and throughout the world are awaiting anxiously the operation of this service in some of their decisions to locate here in the City of Miami.”
While the arrival of Brightline’s service was spoken about in positive terms, speakers stressed the importance of safety near the tracks in light of the string of six deaths — at least two of them ruled suicides — that have taken place on Florida East Coast Railway tracks since Brightline began testing in Broward and Palm Beach counties in 2017.
The most recent incident, which the company said was ruled a suicide, took place on Sunday in Delray Beach when a man standing on the FEC tracks about 100 feet from a crossing was struck by an oncoming Brightline train.
“These trains are faster than what you’ve normally experienced in the past,” Gimenez said. “So if you thought that you had time before — you may have had time before — but you don’t have time now. .... Anything that happens between a train and yourself, I guarantee you’re gonna be a loser.”
Goddard stressed the importance of respecting railroad crossings, especially when safety arms are lowered and signals begin to sound. Videos have surfaced of drivers and pedestrians attempting to beat the trains — which reach top speeds of about 80 mph — across the tracks.
Goddard said his team would be expanding its ongoing safety campaign in the county and shift resources like off-duty police patrols, safety ambassadors and new digital signage across the corridor.
“It’s not just our responsibility,” he said. “We’re calling today on the media and elected officials to help us to amplify this message.”
So far, he said, his company has handed out more than 100,000 safety fliers to schools, businesses and individuals along the tri-county corridor, aired 1,000 public service announcements on radio and TV and placed dozens of safety ambassadors and police officers at crossings.
“Many of these, all of these incidents, could have been prevented if people had just followed the actual signage that was in place,” Goddard said. “Suicide by rail is an unfortunate fact of life. I stand here today and implore you that if you are depressed or hurting or need to talk to someone, there are people who want to listen. There are alternatives.”
The Miami-Dade public school system has been communicating with school administrators throughout the county, but especially to the roughly 20 schools in the vicinity of the FEC railway, to inform students and bus drivers of the new trains, said Jaime Torrens, chief facilities officer for the county school district.
Correction: This story previously stated five people had died on Brightline tracks since last year. Six people have died.