The Transportation & Infrastructure subcommittee spent about an hour listening to a group of rail experts weigh in on the proposal, which would create statewide rules requiring rail operators to install and pay for safety upgrades.
A bill, dubbed the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act, which was filed last month by Treasure Coast lawmakers, would establish minimum safety standards for high-speed rail, including the installation Positive Train Control and Remote Health Monitoring safety technology. The features are designed to help stop a train if the engineer falls ill or a crossing gate malfunctions.
Before launching high-speed service, train companies would also be required to make upgrades at intersections where the road crosses the train tracks.
The legislation would make high-speed rail companies responsible for the cost of all safety upgrades at railroad crossings.
Brightline plans to run as many as 32 trains a day between Miami and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The company’s trains are expected to reach speeds of up to 79 miles per hour between Miami and West Palm Beach; 110 miles per hour between West Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach; and 125 miles per hour between Cocoa and Orlando.
Service between Miami and West Palm Beach is expected to start this summer.
Freight trains on the FEC line currently operate at speeds of between 35 and 40 miles per hour, although they trains are capable of moving up to 60 miles per hour, Robert Ledoux, Florida East Coast Railway’s Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary told state lawmakers on Wednesday.
Ledoux was one of six panelists who addressed the subcommittee.
Bob O’Malley, Florida Government Relations & Community Affairs for CSX Transportation, also expressed concerns with the bill, saying it could have financial impacts on train operations across the state.
Treasure Coast leaders on the panel warned state lawmakers that the fast-moving trains could create a safety problem through their communities, adding that local governments area required to cover the cost of maintaining rail improvements in areas where the tracks cross a road.
“Because you are going to be running trains at 110 miles per hour, this is a risk that doesn’t exist now, and this is something that everyone needs to be concerned about,” said George Gavalla, a rail safety consultant for Martin and Indian River counties.
All Aboard Florida General Counsel Myles Tobin said, if approved, the proposed bill would delay the project and add tens of millions of dollars to its price tag.
The fencing requirements alone would cost as much as $65 million, Tobin told the subcommittee. The company would have to spend $6 million a year maintaining the fencing, he added.
Tobin also argued state lawmakers don’t have the legal authority to impose regulations based on the speed of a train. Decisions about safety requirements should be left to state and federal transportation officials, he added.
Martin County Fire Rescue Division Chief Daniel Wouters said crews are delayed as many as 140 times a year at rail crossings. Increasing the number of trains at those crossings will only add to the delays, he told lawmakers.
Tobin said Brightline officials are focused on safety, adding that the company is working with emergency responders across South Florida.