It is the second death involving a Brightline train and third train fatality on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks within a week.
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A timeline of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks through the Treasure Coast. LISA BROADT/TCPALM
Two fatalities along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor last week bring the death toll on the Miami-to-Jacksonville tracks to at least 16 over the past 12 months, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
These fatalities — 13 by freight trains and three by Brightline passenger trains — follow 20 deaths on the Florida East Coast tracks in 2016, the railroad’s deadliest year in a decade, according to data reported by the railroad to the FRA.
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The most recent occurred Friday night when a Brightline train struck and killed a woman in Boynton Beach. The incident occurred just hours before the railroad launched introductory passenger service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, refocusing some attention from the railroad’s milestone accomplishment to the potential dangers of increased traffic on the tracks.
In total, 74 people have died on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks in the past five years, while the total number of incidents in which a train hit a person or occupied vehicle comes to 97, according to the railroad’s data.
Fatalities occur significantly more often on Florida East Coast Railways than on other Class II railroads that also run through residential areas and have large numbers of at-grade crossings, according to accident reporting by the railroads.
In 2016 and 2017, Iowa Interstate Railroad and Indiana & Ohio Railway each had one fatality, while the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad had none. The railroads also had significantly fewer incidents of nonfatal collisions between trains and occupied vehicles and trains and pedestrians, according to accident data.
In 2016 and the first 10 months of 2017, the railroads reported to FRA:
Iowa Interstate Railroad: 375 miles of track, including service between Chicago and Omaha; 515 open, public, at-grade crossings
Indiana & Ohio Railway: 548 miles of track, including service between Cincinnati and Columbus; 564 open, public at-grade crossings
Florida East Coast Railway: 351 miles of track, operating between Miami and Jacksonville; 609 open, public, at-grade crossings
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Still, it’s nearly impossible to compare the Florida East Coast Railway corridor to any other in the United States, said Bob Ledoux, FEC senior vice president.
“FEC goes through the most crossings per mile than any other railroad of equal distance in the United States,” he said. “As much as you might want to match up FEC with others, it’s a tough match.”
The large number of crossings per mile, as well as high population density, have created decades of safety problems that Florida East Coast has not managed to resolve, according to Ledoux.
“Regrettably, we are unique,” he said.
On Wednesday, Linda Short, 73, of Berea, Ohio, was killed at 7:40 p.m. after driving her car onto the Florida East Coast tracks in Delray Beach and into the path of an oncoming freight train, according to Delray Beach police.
Two days later, Melissa Lavell, 32, was killed after apparently trying to beat an oncoming Brightline passenger train in Boynton Beach, according to police.
“After speaking with witnesses, it appears that Lavell was crossing the tracks after the guard rails were in the down position in an attempt to make it across before the train approached,” police said in a statement posted online.
Brightline on Tuesday said it is committed to keeping the public safe.
“Safety is Brightline’s highest priority, which is evident from the numerous additional infrastructure improvements that have been installed along the FEC Railway corridor to the educational and awareness campaigns currently underway,” a Brightline spokeswoman said in an email. “Education and enforcement are vital, and we implore the public to abide by the rules and laws in place designed to keep them safe around active railroads.”