Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
Safety board to investigate fatal Brightline-SUV collision
DELRAY BEACH — The National Transportation Safety Board will conduct a safety investigation of a crash between a southbound Brightline train and an SUV in Delray Beach that killed two people Wednesday night.
The crash happened about 8:30 p.m. near the intersection of Lindell Boulevard and Old Dixie Highway.
Witnesses told police the SUV was on tracks and the gates were down when the train struck, said Ted White, a spokesperson for Delray Beach Police. The car was facing west toward Lindell Boulevard, and the impact turned the car over and damaged the traffic light at the intersection of Lindell Boulevard, shutting the road down overnight Wednesday.
The police department will not release the names of the two who died until officers finish their investigation, White said. It was not known what speed the train was traveling at the time of the crash.
Additional information was not available Thursday afternoon. Brightline referred all questions to the police.
Keith Holloway, an NTSB spokesperson, said the highway division will investigate what happened and any safety issues potentially involved. Investigators were en route Thursday, and a preliminary report will be issued in the coming weeks. A final report could take a year or more.
“Our focus is to determine what happened, why it happened and how to prevent it from happening again,” Holloway said. “We don’t set guidelines or rules, but we do make recommendations.”
The agency investigates plane, highway, rail, marine and pipeline crashes. The crash in Delray Beach met the agency’s criteria, Holloway said, including involving a train, a car and deaths.
Investigators will examine the train and SUV, review maintenance and inspection records, document the scene, interview witnesses and potentially re-enact the crash, among other investigate measures, Holloway said.
At least 88 people have died in collisions with high-speed Brightline trains since it began operating in July 2017. None of the deaths involving Brightline have been found to be the railroad’s fault. Most have been suicides, pedestrians who tried to run across the tracks ahead of a train or drivers who maneuvered around crossing gates rather than wait.
Brightline averaged about one death for every 32,000 miles its trains travel, the highest rate among the nation’s more than 800 railroads, according to an ongoing Associated Press analysis that began in 2019. Among railroads that travel at least 100,000 miles per year, the next worst rate belongs to SunRail in Central Florida, with one death per every 117,000 miles.
District 4 Palm Beach County Commissioner Marci Woodward urged people in a Facebook post Thursday morning to be cautious at crossings after Wednesday night’s crash.
“Trains can’t stop quickly, and most need a mile or more to come to a complete stop,” Woodward wrote. “These fast-moving Brightline trains travel about 80 miles per hour and are closer and faster than perceived!”
Two new stations in Aventura and Boca Raton opened late in 2022 for a total of five stations in South Florida.
The company launched a safety campaign Monday as it is conducting high-speed testing from West Palm Beach to Orlando ahead of its Orlando opening in 2023, according to a news release.
Trains during testing will reach speeds of up to 110 mph through Martin and St. Lucie County, and high-speed testing will begin on Feb. 16 in northern Palm Beach County through Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens, North Palm Beach, Lake Park, Riviera Beach and West Palm Beach, the release said.
Brightline received a $45 million federal grant in August and will build at least 33 miles of “pedestrian protection features” and other safety measures at 328 crossings between MiamiDade and Brevard County, according to the news release.
Another $5.6 million grant will allow Brightline to add safety features at 48 crossings between Miami and West Palm Beach, including nine permanent digital signs in Broward and Palm Beach counties that will display railroad safety information and suicide prevention messaging.