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Palm Beach Post - Concerns over Brightline spark push for high-speed rail regulations

A group of Treasure Coast lawmakers concerned over the safety of All Aboard Florida’s Brightline service filed bills on Tuesday aimed at regulating the company’s express-passenger trains and other high-speed rail ventures.

State Senator Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, along with Reps. MaryLynn Magar,R-Hobe Sound, Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, and Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, want to create statewide rules requiring rail operators to install and pay for safety upgrades.

Brightline President Mike Reininger said last week the company plans to deliver the “most technologically advanced train in America on what will be perhaps the safest rail operation in America.”

Brightline plans to run as many as 32 trains a day between Miami and Orlando. Between West Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach, the company’s trains are expected to reach speeds of up to 110 miles per hour.

“I find it quite astounding that Florida does not have any measures in place to address high-speed rail when there is a statewide project underway that will crisscross through my community, many others between Miami and Orlando, and potentially up Florida’s entire east coast,” Mayfield said in a statement released by her office. “I can tell you that to date I have not heard one thing from AAF about what they are going to do to ensure safety features are in place to protect the public around these fast-moving trains. This legislation is really designed to protect all Floridians from accidents and injuries at these dangerous railroad crossings across the state.”

The bill, dubbed the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act, would establish minimum safety standards for high-speed rail, including the installation Positive Train Control and Remote Health Monitoring safety technology.

Before launching high-speed service, train companies would also be required to make upgrades at intersections where the road crosses the train tracks.

The legislation would make high-speed rail companies responsible for the cost of all safety upgrades at railroad crossings.

Treasure Coast leaders continue to challenge the second phase of Brightline’s route between West Palm Beach and Orlando. Martin and Indian River counties have filed a federal lawsuit to block bonds that the company had planned to use to pay for the construction.

The U.S. Department of Transportation in November withdrew its 2014 approval granting Brightline permission to sell the bonds, a move federal officials now argue makes the lawsuit filed by the two counties moot.

Instead, the federal transportation officials granted All Aboard provisional permission to move forward with a smaller, $600 million bond sale.

When asked about the opposition last week, Brightline President Mike Reininger said “there is no such thing as a major infrastructure project in the history of the United States that doesn’t have some manner of people with a divergent point of view.”

“We have been very attentive to the things that people have said that are of concern,” Reininger said at a media event held last week to unveil the company’s first passenger train. “Things like the noise of the train, things like the safety of the grade crossings. And we have been very responsible in everything that we have done to (address) those issues and know that what we are delivering is the most technologically advanced train in America on what will be perhaps the safest rail operation in America as a result of the investments and the tangible things that we have done. We are very proud of that. We believe that really does address the things that people say they are concerned with.”


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