USDOT announces $12.9M grant to improve safety at Tri-Rail crossings

tri rail
Tri-Rail has the 13th-worst road-rail crossings fatality rate among 800 rail lines nationwide.

Twenty-five Tri-Rail crossings across South Florida are getting upgrades thanks to an investment from the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT).

On Tuesday, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) announced a $12.9 million grant for the Southern Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) to improve safety at Tri-Rail crossings at highways in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The grant, which comes during National Rail Safety Week, is one of five funded through FHA’s Commuter Authority Rail Safety Improvement (CARSI) program. California, New York and Pennsylvania are receiving grants for similar projects.

The South Florida projects will upgrade LED lights, signal houses, gate mechanisms, cantilevers and light assemblies.

“Safety is the No. 1 priority of the U.S. Department of Transportation, especially as our country faces a crisis of fatalities on our roadways,” USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “Today’s grants, along with additional funds from President (Joe) Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will improve safety at highway-rail crossings for travelers, whether they’re riding, driving, biking, or walking.”

The federal investments into rail crossing safety follows the February release of an Associated Press analysis that found Tri-Rail had the 13th-worst fatality rate among 800 rail services nationwide. Privately run inter-city rail operator Brightline had the worst fatality rate per mile. The Florida East Coast freight line ranked 15th deadliest, according to the AP analysis, which began in 2019.

In May, Brightline and the Florida Department of Transportation applied for a $25 million federal grant to help fund safety enhancements at 328 of its crossings and 33 miles of pedestrian protection channelization features. Roughly around the same time, the Federal Railroad Administration sent $2 million to 13 states, including Florida, to help railroads, cities and local police address rising rates of trespassing and suicides along rail lines.

Vehicular traffic around Tri-Rail, Brightline and Florida East Coast freight lines is only expected to increase over the next several years, a USDOT press note said. Officials also expect an uptick in train traffic as well.

“Making highway-rail grade crossings safer is a major goal for public transportation and is an important part of our program to improve safety throughout the transit industry,” said Federal Transit Administrator Nuria Fernandez. “Grants like this one are a big step to help keep people safe near highway-rail grade crossings.”

Tri-Rail is a publicly operated commuter rail line linking Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach along a former CSX Transportation railway. Its intercounty overseer, the SFRTA, operates out of Pompano Beach. The 18-station Tri-Rail service is wholly owned by the Florida Department of Transportation.

The service — which connects to the Miami-Dade Metrorail, Miami Intermodal Center and Amtrak — had 11,800 weekday riders as of July, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

The CARSI grant is what’s known as a competitive grant or discretionary funding, meaning it’s based on a process in which prospective grantees submit proposals and the grantor selects from a list of applicants the projects it views as most beneficial or deserving.

In January 2021, USDOT awarded five grants totaling $40.2 million through the first of two planned CARSI grant rounds. Those funds went to California, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.

Over the next five years, the Federal Highway Administration’s Rail-Highway Crossings Program is to disburse more than $1.2 billion for safety upgrades funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which Biden signed in November.

The law afforded more flexibility in grant writing for transportation and infrastructure-related projects, including allowing a higher federal share of cost-sharing between local, state and federal agencies.

It also cleared another $3 billion for further railway crossing safety improvements under a new Railroad Crossings Elimination Grant Program. Through the program, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will fund closures, track relocations, grade separations and the installation of warning devices at crossings.

That is in addition to continued funding for eligible at-grade rail crossing safety projects through the FRA’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure & Safety Improvements Program.

“FRA is committed to investing in projects that will improve safety in communities across the country,” FRA Administrator Amit Bose said. “With investments made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and through coordinated efforts like the CARSI Program, we have an opportunity to improve rail crossings, keeping people safe while helping people and goods move more efficiently.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


One comment

  • PeterH

    September 20, 2022 at 1:55 pm

    Improve Tri-rail experience. Trains are in deplorable condition!

    Reply

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