Publish Date: 
Monday, June 10, 2019 - 10:15am

Dear Mr. O’Rourke,

Per your letter below sent to a number of people on the Treasure and Space Coasts of Florida, I would like to take the opportunity to point out a number of issues.

Let’s start with some grim facts – 2 more people were killed on the Virgin Tracks just this week! 22 people have been killed on their tracks since they began testing 22 months ago and a total of 75 people have died on all of Florida’s rail systems in less than 18 months! 75! Despite our fears of skyrocketing accidents and fatalities when the Virgin trains go over 100 mph through the Treasure and Space Coasts, the entire state has an epidemic that no one is addressing!

We who have been following the All Aboard Florida/Virgin Trains project initiated by Fortress Investment Group in 2013 are very aware of Positive Train Control and it’s political history. Unfortunately, most of the deaths occurring on Florida rail systems will NOT be impacted by PTC. In fact, none of the deaths on Virgin’s tracks would have been stopped by PTC.

We also know that FDOT does not approve Hazardous Materials rail transport. However, you must know that 1) Fortress Investment Group has interests in the production and rail transport of Liquefied Natural Gas to all of the deep water ports in Florida and Florida East Coast Rail, owner of the Virgin Trains corridor, plans to move it there. 2) Nowhere in the world does high-speed rail share tracks with LNG. 3) President Trump signed an Executive Order directing Secretary Chao to expedite the approved means and process for getting LNG on the rails. Are you going to sit idly by and allow this without comment?

With this knowledge in mind, the residents of Florida look to their state and local authorities, our first line of defense, to protect their lives and livelihoods. If LNG is placed on the FECR rail corridor along with Virgin Trains and a catastrophic accident happens, the Governor and FDOT will be as culpable as the corporations for not speaking out and stopping this nightmare.

As to your department applying state standards, in the OPPAGA study you refer to, the consulting firm CPCS Transcom notes that there are no additional state standards for trains operating over 79 mph to 125 mph. The firm recommends FDOT develop additional standards for higher speed trains that reflect best practices and not just arbitrarily “work with” Virgin Trains.

Based on Virgin’s death toll, we are shocked that Secretary Thibault sees no need for additional standards governing Virgin Trains which will go 110 mph through our coastal communities. The study recommends Vehicle Detection Systems (VDS) and the FRA recommended Remote Health Monitoring. As important, considering the number of pedestrian deaths, fencing and barriers to deter pedestrians from crossing away from streets should be required for the entire route. 

Sadly, the lack of appropriate requirements means the corporation has gone from county to county negotiating different safety treatments reducing their capital costs and creating a patchwork of plans. In one county, they are promising some fencing and offer to conduct a study of the route to determine where the limited fencing will go. But in their normal fashion of no transparency, the study results will be kept secret. You call this FDOT oversight?

So you see, Secretary Thibault’s attitude about speed train regulations, the corporation’s desire to cut costs and their lack of transparency lead us to ask – how can you condone one county getting partial fencing, another getting pedestrian crossovers, and another getting some VDS at a few at-grade crossings? In fact, we see a total disregard for our safety and welfare by FDOT as you allow Virgin Trains to arbitrarily negotiate features which could save lives!

With 75 people dead on Florida’s tracks in less than 18 months, pardon us if we find your “tools, methodologies and practices” meager gruel. Please do not believe Virgin’s lies that most of the deaths are just “druggies or suicides” – we have the FRA stats to prove they are not. The time is NOW to “implement proven safety strategies” by requiring Virgin Trains to make their system safe before they build the second phase!

We pray that you will find the courage to “Be Bold and Save Lives” as the Governor stated in his State of the State Address. The facts are there. Far too many people are being killed on Florida’s railroads and it’s up to the Governor, Secretary Thibault and you to Make Them Safe.

Respectfully yours,

Susan Mehiel
Florida Alliance for Safe Trains

Read the original email from O'Rouke here.

ACT NOW: Ask Governor DeSantis To Be Bold - Safety is Our Right! Send an email letter here.