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Northern Palm Beach County Residents Wary Of Brightline/Virgin Trains Northward Expansion

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Madeline Fox
/
WLRN
Attendees at a public meeting on Brightline/Virgin Trains' expansion north to Orlando line up to ask questions. Many were critical of the train's potential impacts, though some voiced support for the private passenger rail company.

A public meeting Monday night in Jupiter about the Brightline/Virgin Trains’s northward expansion turned tense as residents voiced concerns about noise, construction closures and unforeseen costs.

The train line is working to link its existing South Florida service to Orlando. No new stops are currently planned for northern Palm Beach County or the Treasure Coast.

Jackie Plaatsman, who lives in the area, said she’s wary of what track work and high-speed trains will mean for Jupiter.

“We don’t need the noise, we don’t need the amount of traffic that is going to be stopped,” she said. “We have very busy roads, we have the hospital across the tracks from us — we’re very concerned about safety and the emergency response.”

Some in the crowd held up signs protesting deaths along the rail line’s existing route. According to data from the Federal Railway Administration, as of July 30, 22 people have died after being hit by Brightline trains since they began running passengers in January 2018.

“I hope you stop in West Palm Beach and don’t come up here,” one man told the Brightline/Virgin Trains representatives, to applause.

Others, though, voiced support for the rail company. Matthew Litwin, a Jupiter Farms resident wearing a baseball cap covered in pins from Amtrak, Brightline and other rail companies, defended the train’s record.

“I don’t think the problem is the train, I think it’s the drivers,” he said to some scattered applause.

Many of the deaths along Brightline’s path have been attributed to suicides or to drivers trying to beat the train across the tracks while crossing gates were down, as in the case of a Maserati whose driver was killed after a collision at an Oakland Park crossing last month.

Brightline/Virgin Trains representatives said they’re shooting to finish most of the southernmost 12 miles of the West Palm Beach to Orlando extension within the next 18 months. That will include clearing ground, constructing track and putting up signals.

The train company will also overhaul the Loxahatchee River bridge to prepare it to carry higher-speed trains.

Brightline/Virgin Trains is anticipating temporary road closures at the following crossings, though they haven’t yet given a timeline for when they’ll be blocked:

  • Riverside Drive
  • Center Street
  • Indiantown Road
  • Toney Penna Drive
  • Frederick Small Road