Florida's Department of Transportation announced Thursday an immediate directive for more rail safety measures across the state as well as a new education initiative about rail safety called Operation STRIDE.
The announcement comes in light of a recent report that indicated that Brightline high speed trains have the worst per-mile death rate in the country. According to federal data, 41 people have been killed since January 2018, a rate of more than one a month and about one for every 29,000 miles the trains have traveled. That same report indicated that none of the deaths were caused by crew error or faulty equipment but rather were related to suicides or impatient motorists, pedestrians or bicyclists who misjudged the trains’ speed and ignored bells, gates or other warnings.
FDOT's new safety directive calls for installing markings - called Dynamic Envelopes - at every state-owned existing and future state rail crossing in the state.
The idea is that the pattern of white markings will alert drivers they are in danger if they stop within the marked area near the tracks. The markings now need to be in place at more than 4,000 rail crossings by March 2022, and are expected to cost FDOT close to $60 million. The agency will absorb that cost over the next three fiscal years, according to FDOT's communications office.
FDOT piloted Dynamic Envelopes at some crossings in south and central Florida in 2014 and 2017. The agency found that after installing the white marks near the tracks, less cars were stopping too close the crossings.
Before announcing the rail safety order, Florida Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault addressed the issue of safety at an industry summit on transportation, growth and infrastructure in Florida.
"We've got to change the mindset. We've got to change the mentality. One death is one too many," he said. "And so whether a be at a railroad crossing or whether it be Interstate 95, what can we do to drive that answer to zero? That's really the focus."
Last month, Governor Ron DeSantis directed Thibault and FDOT to do what they could to increase rail safety and decrease deaths.
Brightline - soon to become Virgin Trains USA - announced support on Wednesday for a bill filed ahead of the upcoming state legislative session that would fund suicide prevention outreach in Florida.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. For the community help and crisis hotline for all South Florida counties, and the Keys, dial 2-1-1.
Brightline President, Patrick Goddard, was also present at the summit, where he spoke about the company's plans for expansion.
"You know, today it's Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach," Goddard said. "In the future it'll be Boca Raton, Aventura, Orlando and hopefully the Treasure Coast and Brevard. And Beyond."
The Larger Transit Picture In Florida
Industry and state leaders were gathered at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood to talk about Florida's infrastructure and transportation systems - and how they can be adapted to fit the needs of a growing population. The annual summit is put on by the Florida Chamber of Commerce's Foundation.
Florida is growing fast. The Chamber estimates that the state will add at least 4 million new residents by 2030, bringing the total population to 26 million people. That's according to the different metrics the chamber collects as a part of its public database, called The Florida Scorecard.
"What the trends tell us are, is the more dense counties we have are going to get denser in the future," said Jerry Parrish, the Florida Chamber Foundation's chief economist and director of research.
Broward County alone is looking at a population increase from just under 2 million residents to over 2.1 or even 2.3 million by 2030.
One idea is to accommodate the growing population with more regional transit options, including a people mover system.
The Deputy Director of Port Everglades, David Anderton, said that discussions about growth aren't only about "connecting Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to the cruise terminals at Port Everglades, but also taking that system up to the northern portion of the port and connecting it to our convention center."
Anderton said it's part of a much larger transit idea.
"We envision this sort of being the last connection of more of a regional transit system that would run north, south, and then east, west within Broward County," he said.
Until that system becomes a reality, Anderton told the crowd at the summit that the port has plans for minor roadway improvements in the next two to three years, to help alleviate congestion on heavy cruise traffic days.