Bill to regulate high-speed passenger trains rolls on - Florida Politics

Bill to regulate high-speed passenger trains rolls on

A bill aimed at regulating private high-speed passenger train service in Florida that is effectively targeting the Brightline train planned for the east coast rolled through the Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday.

Sponsor Republican state Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne insisted that Senate Bill 425 is aimed at the general future of passenger rail in Florida.

“It sets the framework for how all future high-speed rail passenger systems are to be operated in the state of Florida, and it ensures that the proper protections for our citizens are in place,” Mayfield said.

But Rusty Roberts, vice president for All Aboard Florida, which is running Brightline, argued that railroad safety is exclusively covered by federal law, that Brightline was meeting the highest standards – the first railroad in the country to do so, he said – and that the bill’s only intention was to create the framework for litigation to slow down or stop the train.

Brightline intends to begin service with a 79 mph train connecting West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami this summer. Longterm, the company plans to connect West Palm with Orlando with a train going up to 120 mph. And even longer term, Roberts said, the company envisions routes to Tampa and Jacksonville as well.

But much of the political base between West Palm and Orlando is rallying in opposition over concerns about safety of high-speed trains crossing scores of at-grade intersections and numerous waterways. Mayfield’s bill offers requirements for fencing, upgraded intersection crossings and other safety measures, as well as spelling out civil liability.

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“We believe, if passed, this bill will jeopardize Florida’s opportunity to connect major metropolitan centers with an express intercity passenger system. Its onerous regulations threaten our ability to complete the planned connection to Orlando, and as a consequence, will affect future expansion to Tampa Bay, and a northern expansion to Jacksonville,” Robert said. “This is the true goal of this piece of legislation: to keep this private enterprise from bringing a much needed transportation option to our growing state.”

“This is not about a particular high-rail passenger train. This is about about setting the framework for Florida so that we may have these,” Mayfield said.

The committee approved the bill unanimously.

That drew praise from one of Brightline’s biggest critics, a Treasure Coast-based group called Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida.

“The unanimous support the bill received in committee today highlights the importance of ensuring that all Floridians are protected from accidents and injuries at dangerous high speed rail crossings across the state,” said CARE FL Chairman Brent Hanlon in a statement. “This is not just about our community which will be negatively impacted. This legislation will address public safety concerns in any community across the state.”

 

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

3 Comments

  1. Give me a break! How does Florida in good conscience delay “Brightline” and force FECI to needlessly expend funds on a mute issue? When does the media serve the public through meaningful investigative journalism to identify how the single issue lobbyists have stirred up the cul de sac NIMBYs, as the local politicians have been called upon with campaign donations? When will it be known how these are the same lobbyists manipulating Texas and California against their high-speed rail programs for the same clients: air and bus lines; air, bus, and auto manufacturers; oil; tire firms?

    How does the Florida taxpayer tolerate the needless waste of funds tilting against windmills when the legal environment is quite clear defining federal supremacy over state and local regulations? Federal regulations are quite explicit:

    1) ICC Termination Act of 1995.
    2) Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970.
    3) Noise Control Act of 1972.
    4) City of Auburn v. U.s. 154 F3d. 1025 (9th Circuit 1998).

    One can only imagine that the ancestors of these people were approached by the lobbyists of their day to be stridently against standardizing time zones and railroad track gauges! How can Florida allow defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory for improved mobility, development, and enhanced tourism? Remember Pogo: “We have met the enemy and it is us!”

  2. Problem solved if Brightline moves route away from Martin & Indian River counties who WILL NOT have access to or benefit from “improved mobility, development, and enhanced tourism” and runs their line along tracks to the west instead!

  3. For immediate release: January 18, 2017
    Contact: Gabriella B. Ferraro, Administration, 772-463-2810
    MARTIN COUNTY APPLAUDS NEWLY-FILED FLORIDA HIGH-SPEED PASSENGER RAIL SAFETY ACT

    Martin County applauds Senator Debbie Mayfield (R-Melbourne), Representatives MaryLynn Magar (R-Hobe Sound), Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) and Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) who filed legislation yesterday that will enhance public safety at railroad crossings and alleviate the financial burden put on local governments to upgrade and maintain the crossings for these projects. The Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act addresses Florida’s current lack of any law or regulation governing high speed rail safety and its increasing but unfunded maintenance costs.
    “Martin County began its fight to protect its residents from the negative impacts of rail expansion, including the All Aboard Florida/Brightline project, in2014. The County Commission supports the legislators who have worked to design and introduce this legislation to protect all Floridians from accidents and injuries at these dangerous railroad crossings,” said Commissioner Doug Smith, Chairman of the Martin County Board of County Commissioners.The proposed All Aboard Florida/Brightline high-speed passenger rail project, is expected to send 32 trains per day in excess of 110 miles per hour barreling through Treasure Coast communities, forcing school children, pedestrians, first responders, and residents to negotiate with these fast trains at crossings, through small downtowns and quiet neighborhoods.
    The Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act provides the Florida Department of Transportation with the authority to regulate the operation and maintenance of high-speed passenger trains in Florida, except for the authority preempted by federal laws or regulations. The legislation establishes minimum safety standards for high-speed passenger rail, including the installation of approved safety technology that, at a minimum, must include Positive Train Control and Remote Health Monitoring. It also addresses the costs local governments will incur to not only upgrade and maintain the crossings for high-speed rail, but to also install safety technology at rail crossings. Without the legislation, Martin County’s costs alone would rise dramatically for the upgrades and improvements necessary for the proposed All Aboard/Brightline project, potentially reaching $13.5 million in 2030 and exceeding $31 million by 2040.
    “This legislation will protect our taxpayers from the unfunded mandate of financing safety equipment upgrades and perpetual maintenance costs for these rail projects,” added Commissioner Smith.
    For more resources and information on the many local and regional issues of concern http://www.martin.fl.us

    2401 SE Monterey Road, Stuart, Florida 34996
    MARTIN COUNTY

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