Mile for mile, Florida’s Brightline is the nation’s deadliest train line
Since almost-high-speed Brightline started test runs in summer 2017 and officially began service in January 2018, more than 40 people have been killed by one of their trains, according to Federal Railroad Administration data compiled by the Associated Press.
That’s a rate of one death every 29,000 miles – or more than one fatality a month – which is the worst rate of all 821 train lines in the U.S.
Brightline, which will soon transition to Virgin Trains USA after completing a merger with Richard Branson’s company, has trains that top-out around 80 mph. It takes the train a quarter-mile to come to a full stop, and the trains travel through some of Florida‘s most populated areas, like the route between Miami and West Palm Beach. Plans to expand to Orlando are set for 2020, including a stop at Orlando International Airport’s new Terminal C.
According to law enforcement and government officials, none of the deaths were caused by crew error or faulty equipment, even when passing through dense cities. Some deaths involved pedestrians, motorists, and bicyclists who ignored bells and horns trying to make it across the tracks before the train came. Drugs and alcohol were found in the blood of some, but not all, of those victims.
The highest number of deaths were suicides. Beyond the tragedy felt by the victims and their loved ones, the horrific aftermath is also a source of lasting trauma for train operators and staff.
Brightline officials say they care deeply about lowering the alarming death toll, though they note the deaths are not their fault. The company says it is in talks with suicide-prevention experts about spotting warning signs, as well as experimenting with technology like motion detectors and drones to increase crew awareness if anything is close to the tracks as the train readies to pass.
Brightline also says they will put up fences, gates, and shrubs around trouble areas, and talk to cities about banning side-street crossing.