Fatalities Mount from Brightline, South Florida's New Higher-Speed Train Service

A 51-year-old bicyclist became the second fatality in the first week of revenue service. It was the fourth fatality since the summer for the diesel train, which operates from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale.

3 minute read

January 19, 2018, 10:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


BBT609 / Flickr

Both of the recent fatalities, the earlier one being a 32-year-old pedestrian, resulted from attempts to "beat the train" through grade crossings in Boynton BeachPalm Beach County. Brightline, which began service on Saturday, can travel at speeds up to 125 mph, but the average speed is 80 mph through the current route

"On Wednesday, Jeffrey D. King, 51, was riding his bicycle when he was struck at 4:26 p.m. in the 100 block of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks on Ocean Avenue," said a spokeswoman for the Boynton Beach Police Department spokeswoman, reports Tonya Alanez fir Sun Sentinel on Jan. 17.

Investigators determined he pedaled around the gates, which were down, in an attempt to beat the approaching train.

The circumstances were remarkable similar five days earlier on Friday night, only the mode was different, as the victim was on foot.

"Witnesses told Boynton police it appeared that Melissa Lavell was on the tracks after the gates were in the down position as she tried to make it across before the train approached," reported Alanez and Wayne K. Roustan for the Sentinel on Jan. 13. The Friday night train was the inaugural run carrying business leaders from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach. Revenue service began Saturday, Jan. 14.

A Brightline employee informed the passengers there had been a “trespasser incident” during their two-hour wait on the tracks.

Suicide by train

The term is a familiar one to Caltrain riders on the San Francisco peninsula, which suffered its first fatality of 2018 on Wednesday night in Mountain View after experiencing nine deaths last year. However, the majority of these incidents turn out to be suicides rather than pedestrians and cyclists ducking under crossing gates or motorists stopping on the tracks while stuck in traffic. In fact, Caltrain has installed pedestrian crossing gates alongside the street gates to prevent the type of incidents tragically seen in Boynton Beach this week, although determined people can simple open adjacent pedestrian doors and walk across the tracks, risking a $271 fine.

"Another woman died in July after she was hit in Boca Raton," add Alanez and Roustan. "Her death was investigated as a suicide."

"In November, a second woman was on the tracks in Deerfield Beach [Broward County] when she was struck." While no cause has been assigned, it appeared that it may have been intentional.

A federal issue?

"In the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s fatality, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wrote a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, asking whether enough has been done to boost safety," adds Alanez. He requested "additional information on what actions the Department has taken to address highway-rail grade crossing safety."

[See 2016 post, "Top Priority for Federal Railroad Administration: Reducing Crossing Crashes."]

Nelson might also wish to refer the matter to the Florida Department of Transportation which considered using automated traffic enforcement to ticket motorists who drove around downed SunRail gates at intersections in Orlando in 2015. Whether the cameras would ticket pedestrians and cyclists, though, would need to be addressed.

Speaking of Orlando, Brightline received federal approval last month to expand from West Palm Beach to Orlando. In part of this stretch, it will it operate at its top speed of 125 mph, according to Jennifer Sorentrue of the Palm Beach Post on Nov. 14, 2017.

The company’s trains are expected to reach speeds of up to 79 mph between Miami and West Palm Beach; 110 mph between West Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach [Brevard County]; and 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018 in Sun Sentinel

Aerial view of snowy single-family homes in suburban Long Island, New York

New York Governor Advances Housing Plan Amid Stiff Suburban Opposition

Governor Kathy Hochul’s ambitious proposal to create more housing has once again run into a brick wall of opposition in New York’s enormous suburbs, especially on Long Island. This year, however, the wall may have some cracks.

March 20, 2023 - Mark H. McNulty

Empty parking garage at night with yellow lines marking spots and fluorescent lighting

Rethinking the Role of Parking in the American City

In cities big and small, the tide is turning against sprawling parking lots, car-centric development, and minimum parking mandates.

March 16, 2023 - The New York Times

A futuristic version of New York City, with plants growing neatly on top of modern skycrapers.

Friday Eye Candy: 20 AI-Generated Cityscapes

AI-generated images are creating new landscapes and cityscapes, capable of inspiring awe or fear.

March 17, 2023 - Chris Steins via Medium

Aerial view of farmers' market with white booths in downtown Boise, Idaho

Planners Look to ‘Activity Centers’ for Sustainable Development

Existing hubs of ‘hyperlocal’ economic activity provide a model for urban density.

March 23 - Smart Cities Dive

Close-up of person sitting on electric bike

Federal E-Bike Rebate Bill Reintroduced

The bill, part of an effort to encourage active transportation for short trips and take cars off U.S. roads, would cover 30 percent of the cost of an electric bike.

March 23 - Congressman Jimmy Panetta

High Point, Seattle

Green Infrastructure Toolkit Launches on World Water Day

The Green Infrastructure Toolkit lists 25 actions local governments can take to transform crusty, impermeable urban landscapes into vibrant, spongy ecosystems that preserve water as a resource and protect against its potential destruction in floods.

March 23 - PlaceShakers and NewsMakers

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

HUD’s 2023 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.