Don’t let foes derail Florida’s Brightline fast train service

Miami Herald Editorial Board

The new Brightline fast train would take passengers from Miami to Orlando.
The new Brightline fast train would take passengers from Miami to Orlando. All Aboard Florida

We’re drowning in traffic, so any relief is welcome — on that, we can all agree.

But Florida lawmakers are mulling legislation that could put the brakes on progress by preventing the anticipated Brightline high-speed passenger train from rolling between Miami and Orlando.

If passed, Senate Bill 386 could delay or even shut down the Brightline project, which is to begin limited service between Miami and Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach by late August, with full service to Orlando in the near future.

In the name of safety, the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act, sponsored by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, boosts the state Department of Transportation’s authority to give counties the right to demand things like fencing along miles and miles of the railroad corridor in their area.

However, this bill is 1. duplicative, because many of the safety issues in the bill are already addressed by the federal Rail Safety Act and, 2. deceptive. Lawmakers shouldn’t fall for it.

Brightline officials say these massive and expensive restrictions that allow the counties to request endless accommodations seriously endanger the entire project.

They have already come to agreements with the counties through which Brightline will travel, saying — and we concur — that this bill is less about safety and more a tactic by Brightline foes to kill the passenger train service, which has met strong opposition, and lawsuits, in the Treasure Coast.

Brightline executives are crying foul — and rightly so.

They recently told the Editorial Board the legislation, which has a companion bill in the House and is currently sitting in committee, is the work of train opponents who have come up with a clever way to try to stop the train by introducing bogus, costly safety concerns, like the fencing and other rail-crossing requirements that can financially strangle the project.

Brightline officials say the bill could also chill the railroad's future expansion plans to Tampa and Jacksonville.

That would be a shame. Florida — its residents, tourists and businesspeople — need this train.

The leading train opponents, members of Citizens Against Rail Expansion, have praised the Mayfield bill on its website, saying it “highlights the importance of ensuring that all Floridians are protected from accidents and injuries at dangerous high speed rail crossings across the state,” chairman Brent Hanlon wrote.

Train officials say they have already built in safety features that go beyond those required.

Last week, Miami-Dade commissioners unanimously passed a motion opposing the Senate bill.

That was a solid move by the commission, which is constantly struggling to find solutions to transportation gridlock.

Commissioners said in a statement: “This private express passenger rail service is set to connect Miami-Dade with central Florida in an unprecedented way, bringing with it new tourism opportunities, less congestion on our roads and a new affordable way to travel.”

They are absolutely correct, and the Miami-Dade legislative delegation should back them up.

Brightline stands to be a transformative transportation option for the state.

We urge Florida lawmakers to recognize the dire need for such train service and not be blinded by damaging attempts to stop Brightline in its tracks.