With the derailment of bills seeking state regulation of the private Brightline passenger train system, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield has gotten language inserted into the Senate budget plan that would authorize a safety study of the train.
The budget proposal includes new language that would authorize a transportation research center at the University of South Florida to conduct a study of the safety of high-speed passenger rail that is planned to one day extend from Miami to Orlando, and an overview of whether state officials can regulate such systems.
The overview specifically would have to include assessments of whether Florida can review and identify any road and street crossings that would need to be improved for safety reasons, and whether Florida can then require specific improvements.
The language appears after the fate of Mayfield’s Senate Bill 572 and its counterpart in the Florida House appears clear. The bills are dead, as SB 572 stalled in the Senate Community Affairs Committee and House Bill 525, sponsored by Republican state Reps. Erin Grall of Vero Beach and MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta, never got out of the station. Those bills sought to require Florida to practice regulatory oversight and control over the Brightline system.
Mayfield, of Melbourne, was not immediately available Friday to discuss the budget language.
Brightline officials and their political allies have maintained that trains always have been under the regulatory purview of the federal government, and that it’s not appropriate for the state to get involved. They also insist their system already is being assembled to the highest possible federal requirements for high speed rail, even though their trains technically are not high-speed trains.
Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, began running passenger train service in January between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale with trains that can reach a maximum speed of just 79 mph. The next extension, to Miami later this year, will go no faster. The company’s longterm plans call for a train from West Palm Beach to Orlando that could go 110 mph up the coast and 120 mph between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport. Officially, under federal guidelines, the more rigid rules for high-speed rail is for trains that exceed 125 mph.
Much of the opposition to the train has come from the Treasure Coast, where many people and political figures are concerned about the trains passing through urban areas and crossing scores of streets and roads at speeds up to 110 mph. Brightline has not announced any plans for any stops in cities Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, or Brevard counties.
Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, has become particularly urgent in her calls for state regulatory control since revelations in recent months that several people already have been killed by Brightline trains along the lower-speed tracks in Palm Beach and Broward counties.
In every case, however, the incidents involved pedestrians or bicyclists who ignored warning lights, train whistles, and other obvious signs of an oncoming train and stepped or peddled around or under crossing gate arms, onto the tracks, into a train’s path.
The Senate budget language calls for the USF Center for Urban Transportation Research to study any passenger rail operation in Florida where at least one segment of the train’s route would have the train travel at least 80 mph. Brightline currently is the only operation that would qualify.
The language instructs the USF center to submit a report by Nov. 1 to Gov. Rick Scott, the president of the Senate, and the speaker of the House of Representatives.