Brightline, Indian River County duke it out before House panel

George Gavalla, Railroad safety consultant,

Brightline railroad supporters and Treasure Coast counties opposing the higher-speed train planned from Orlando to Miami debated their cases Wednesday before a Florida House committee, showing the high stakes of their fight.

Officials from the train company, and two other train companies, were joined by officials of one of the counties, Indian River for a panel discussion before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, pitting the local’s concerns for safety versus the companies assurances that safety already is addressed.

“This is going to be a tremendous benefit to the entire state of Florida,” Brightline General Counsel Myles Tobin declared.

“It is a railroad, and the cost of doing business is to make it safe,” declared Kate Cotner, assistant county attorney for Indian River County.

At stake is Brightline’s ability to upgrade a rail line and operate privately-run passenger trains from West Palm Beach to Orlando, which will traverse four counties at speeds up to 110 mph without actually stopping in any of them. Two of those counties, Indian River and Martin, are suing, and pushing the Florida Legislature for safety measures beyond what Brightline has deemed necessary.

That fight is a large reason why Brightline has thrown out its timetable for completing the construction and beginning the service. At one time the company anticipated being able to do so late this year. None of the construction has started, and now the service indefinitely delayed.

Also complicating matters are bills pushed by Treasure Coast lawmakers that would require some additional safety measures – universal four-arm crossing gates at all road crossings, strategic fencing, and other items.

The committee was not explicitly hearing House Bill 269, introduced by Republican state Reps. Erin Grall of Vero Beach and MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta. But that bill and its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 386 from Republican state Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne were often cited by railroad officials as a concern, and by the opponents as important, and both Grall and Magar took part in the discussions.

Cotner said the bill would require four-gate crossings, and fencing where the Florida Department of Transportation deemed it necessary, and that the department was on board with the bill.

Tobin pointed out that all crossing guard devices would adhere to federal railroad standards, and that Brightline was going way beyond by including such technologies as positive train control, a high-tech, computerized-sensor system not yet in use on any other American railroad. As for the fencing, he said studies show it’s a waste of money, that it does not stop trespassers from entering rails or getting hit by trains.

He also predicted the bills, if approved, would be preempted by federal law.

Brightline intends to open up the southern phase of its service, linking West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami on 27 miles or track later this year. But those trains would run no faster than 79 mph. The 129-mile phase between West Palm and Cocoa would allow for 110 mph trains, and the 38 miles Cocoa to Orlando International Airport the trains would allow trains to run as fast as 125 mph.

“We are going to provide a unique service in the United States, in the sense that it is a privately-funded, privately-operated passenger service,” Tobin said.

There are no stops planned for the counties of Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Brevard. The Indian River contingent participating in the discussion noted that their counties will be facing unique, new risks affecting traffic and emergency first responders, without getting any service.

“Because you’re going to be running trains at 110 mph, this is a risk that doesn’t exist now, and this is something everyone needs to be concerned about,” said George Gavalla, a railroad safety consultant hired by Indian River.


Scott Powers

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 [email protected]


  • Claudia Gold

    February 23, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    High speed rail is the best thing to happen to FL in decades. PLEASE don’t ruin it for all of us.

    • Granvil

      February 24, 2017 at 3:00 pm

      This is not a high speed rail for more then 90% of their route they can only go around 70 mph because of all the at grade crossing. it is just a ploy to get tracks laid in the name of public transit they will be used for freight.

      • Claudia

        February 27, 2017 at 2:18 pm

        I don’t honestly care if it’s a ploy. I just want to be able to take a train, like I can when I travel in the rest of the world. I also don’t care about technical definition of high speed rail. It’s better than what we have now and can show the country that true high speed rail is viable.

        • Granvil

          February 28, 2017 at 10:27 am

          I do care if it is a ploy and so do most people effect by this by this disaster. We won’t be show the rest of the country high speed rail is viable. If they ever get this off the ground and that is a big IF they will only run it for year or so and then try to claim bankruptcy. How do they plan on sell tickets when they cost just as much air but takes hours longer. Their only sell point against Air travel is no TSA I don’t know about but I would feel better knowing they are screening passengers. Especially since they are saying that this will be for international passengers mostly want to travel from Miami Airport to Orlando Airport for Disney. Now I don’t know about you be if i just traveled on a plane international for hours the last thing i would want to do is get on a train and travel for over 3 more hours to get to different airport when i could have flown straight there cheaper and faster. But hey that’s just me I guess. Also this train will never be consider a true High Speed rail because they will Never be able to do the speeds to meet what true high speed rail is. The only high thing about train will be the cost of the tickets. they already plan on their first stop down south to cost 25-30 dollars Tri-Rail does the same stop for 7 dollars?

          • Claudia Gold

            February 28, 2017 at 10:51 am

            The point isn’t that international travelers will go straight to the train from the airport — it’s that they will spend a few days in Miami and then get on a train for their next stop. (Otherwise they would of course just take a connecting flight.) I do this kind of thing all the time in other countries. I’ve traveled extensively in about 35 countries and do this kind of thing all the time.

            Tri-rail honestly kind of sucks by international train standards. It’s slow and it stops too much, and the trains are out of date. I use it, but I am very excited for something newer and better. I’m happy to pay about as much as a flight from Orlando to Miami because trains are so much more convenient and comfortable (no security lines, go straight to city downtowns, etc).

            Tri-rail and $7 tickets aren’t going away, but some people, like me, are happy to pay a bit more for faster and better service. Also I’d like to be able to go to Orlando on a whim, which is not currently available in any way.

          • Granvil

            February 28, 2017 at 11:33 am

            But they are not going to city down towns? Going to the Airport in Orlando so you will still have to rent a car get a taxi or ride a bus to get to your end destination. So by time you take a taxi or bus or your car to get to the train station and ride it and get off and find out what else you have to do to get to your end point. I would already be there in my car for a small fraction of the cost. Biggest problem about riding a train you can only go where they take not where you need to go like a car that is why the fell out of favor in the 1960’s. They only stay reverent in big city’s where the cost of owning a car was to high or inconvenient. Slow train travel is a thing of the past if they want to make this a True high speed rail move the track west so that they can go fast enough to make it worth the cost to ride it. If not it will just be another big loss to our way of life in FL think its hard to cross tracks now just wait till they start running these trains plus more of their freight trains. Less us forget they are also in talks with AmTrak about lease track time going up the east coast and they are wanting to also allow Trirail to use their tracks in the south so tell me again how this will help traffic problems??

          • Claudia Gold

            February 28, 2017 at 11:50 am

            Even if it goes to the airport in Orlando, you can get a Lyft or rent a car right from where it ends up. It’s still much easier than driving for several hours. You’re not going to be able to convince me that trains are less convenient. I’ve used cars my whole life, and also trains, and I prefer trains. I don’t care that I can’t choose my route, because all I need to do is get to a city center in the end and the get on public transit.

            How will it reduce traffic? Simple. People won’t need to be driving on I-95 as much to get between South Florida and Orlando.

            They can’t easily just move the tracks west. The whole reason this is economically viable in this screwed up system is that the company already owns that land. That means it’s the east coast or not at all, so I’m 100% in favor of it, because having a train is just that important (environmentally, economically, quality of life, etc).

            I’m also in favor of giving AmTrak more lease track time. That honestly sounds fantastic to me!

            What we really need is a huge nationwide High Speed Rail initiative, with trains connecting all major cities, so that we can catch up to the rest of the world. Even places like Vietnam have better trains than we have in America. It’s really just shameful.

          • Granvil

            February 28, 2017 at 12:34 pm

            So you are just one of those people who love trains just because. Not because they make since right. Because no matter how you try to spin this it will be an out and out failure and one way or another FEC will find way to leave the tax payers holding the bag. By the way if you love train travel so much way aren’t riding AmTrak to get to get back and forth from Orlando to Miami ? AmTrak runs at least one every day? This seems to be lost on most people who support this project that there is already a train going back and forth right now to this start and end point that is losing money every year and has to supported by tax payer funds every year. So tell where is AAF ridership at if AmTrak can’t fill a train full of paying customers after running for years?

          • Claudia GOld

            February 28, 2017 at 12:42 pm

            No. I love trains because I have used them, and I find them far superior from a customer point of view. They are much more pleasant. I have no ideological attachment to them — they are just a mode of transit — but they are really much nicer than flying.

            AmTrak trains to Orlando do not go to the right places, are slow, and are not on a convenient schedule. (Once a day is quite frankly, unacceptable.) Also, the trains themselves suck. The food is terrible. There are often no power outlets or working fast wifi. When it comes to getting people to use a mode of transit, these details are the things that matter.

            As a taxpayer, I’d be happy to help support infrastructure. I would be happier if this were a government project in the first place, but I’m fine with any way we can improve public mass transit in America.

          • Claudia GOld

            February 28, 2017 at 12:45 pm

            Keep in mind, the whole benefit of trains is that you can walk up and buy a ticket five minutes before the train leaves. If you only have trains running once per day, you might as well drive, because you are unlikely to get there sooner by taking the train. On the other hand, if the train leaves every hour, then you can just show up and be in Orlando a few hours later, with no planning. It becomes more convenient than flying and driving at that point.

          • Granvil

            March 2, 2017 at 1:09 pm

            I know You as a tax payer would be happy to pick up the tab for this Billion dollar company’s failure. But I am pretty sure the rest of us tax payers are not willing to. All this project is away for FEC to get more tracks laid in other company’s name claim bankruptcy in that company’s name and walk away leave tax payer on the hook. Do you think they will go out and rip up all those new tracks that they laid on FEC land with AAF monies when they go under? No they will still be running their freight trains on. All About Freight.

        • Jay

          March 4, 2017 at 7:54 pm

          Not through my town.

          • Claudia

            March 5, 2017 at 12:05 pm

            Selfish. We all live in one country and we can’t have a functioning nation if everyone is only worried about himself or herself.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Joe Henderson, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Gray Rohrer, Aimee Sachs, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn