After fatal derailment in Washington, Debbie Mayfield urges Rick Scott to review rail safety - Florida Politics

After fatal derailment in Washington, Debbie Mayfield urges Rick Scott to review rail safety

State Sen. Debbie Mayfield is urging Gov. Rick Scott to have the Florida Department of Transportation review several safety concerns she’s been raising about the proposed Brightline higher-speed passenger train, while warning that the recent fatal Amtrak derailment in Washington state may foretell issues in Florida.

Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, has been pushing legislation the past two years to have the Florida Department of Transportation exercise  safety and regulatory oversight over Brightline, and in a letter she sent to Scott Thursday she urged he get behind her SB 572, the proposed High-Speed Rail Passenger Safety Act.

Her efforts represent the concerns of many political leaders along the Treasure Coast, which would be ride-over country for Brightline’s proposed West Palm Beach to Orlando route. Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, received federal approval for that route and financing backing for the $1.1 billion needed in the past two weeks.

Couple that with the environmental permits, and the train has virtually left the station. It now has all federal and state environmental approval and financing it needs, though the company indicated it still is reviewing financing options,

Brightline also intends to open the first phase of its private passenger train service, connecting West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, within coming weeks. The West Palm Beach to Orlando route, still at least a couple of years away even if there are no more challenges, is seen as critical to making the overall endeavor economically feasible.

Mayfield and others, notably state Reps. Erin Grall of Vero Beach and MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta, raise concerns about whether federal regulations and Brightline’s assurances of safety are enough, and have been seeking Florida to play a role.

That’s especially true after the Amtrak Cascades passenger train derailed on its very first run two weeks ago, killing three passengers and injuring 70 others. She noted that train and Brightline have numerous similarities in operation and regulation.

Mayfield called on Scott to have the Florida Department of Transportation “use its current authority to immediately address some very important safety concerns, particularly dealing with railroad-highway grade crossings, and to reduce hazards. Specifically, she called on FDOT to identify public highway-rail grade crossing locations needing improvements; enhance safety through installation or upgrade of grade crossing warning devices; conduct corridor-reviews identifying roadway and signalization improvements that would reduce hazards; identify redundant and unnecessary crossings for possible elimination; and evaluate effectiveness of safety improvement projects.

“After Monday’s tragedy in Washington State, it is clear that we must take the responsibility and take charge to protect Florida from the same type of tragedy,” Mayfield wrote. “A high-speed passenger rail system requires a very complex infrastructure in order to ensure the safety of passengers as well as the communities they will travel through. We must not rely solely on the Federal Government for the oversight needed to protect the citizens of Florida.”

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.
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