BREAKING NEWS - TREASURE COAST LEGISLATORS FIGHT BACK

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - 4:00pm

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Treasure Coast lawmakers, concerned about a passenger railroad service that will travel through their districts, want high-speed operators to pay for safety upgrades.

Targeted at All Aboard Florida's Brightline service, which is planned to eventually link Miami and Orlando, the measure (SB 386) filed Tuesday also would give the Florida Department of Transportation regulatory authority over high-speed rail where not preempted by federal regulations.

"I find it quite astounding that Florida does not have any measures in place to address high-speed rail when there is a statewide project underway that will crisscross through my community, many others between Miami and Orlando, and potentially up Florida's entire East Coast," bill sponsor Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, said in a prepared statement. "This legislation is really designed to protect all Floridians from accidents and injuries at these dangerous railroad crossings across the state."

Republican House members MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta, Gayle Harrell of Stuart and Erin Grall of Vero Beach were expected to jointly file a House version of the bill.

"This legislation not only protects Floridians from the potential dangers of high-speed trains by ensuring the appropriate safety technology is in place, but also protects their tax dollars by ensuring the appropriate entity pays for those upgrades," Magar said in a statement.

Ali Soule, a spokeswoman for All Aboard Florida, said Tuesday the company wasn't commenting on the legislative proposal.

The proposal comes as All Aboard Florida this week is starting to test its first Brightline passenger train on Florida East Coast Railway tracks between West Palm Beach and Lantana.

The privately funded passenger service is set to run at speeds up to 79 mph between Miami and West Palm Beach starting this summer.

It may be another two years before All Aboard Florida, which has yet to announce ticket prices for its routes, is running its colorful, high-tech Brightline trains north at speeds up to 110 mph from Jupiter to Cocoa and then at 125 mph to Orlando. Martin and Indian River counties continue to legally fight the Brightline service.

Brent Hanlon, chair of Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, a residents' group opposed to All Aboard Florida's planned service, voiced support for the legislation on Tuesday.

"This important legislation will ensure that AAF (All Aboard Florida) is solely responsible for the cost of upgrading and installing the appropriate safety measures desperately needed at high-speed rail crossings, protecting not only the safety and well-being of Treasure Coast residents, but our pocketbooks as well," Hanlon said in a prepared statement.

Mayfield has argued that All Aboard Florida's proposal "will erode our quality of life, endanger the lives of our citizens and create unnecessary obstacles to first responders."

The measure would require high-speed passenger rail companies to pay for the installation or realignment of crossing gates and fencing, along with maintenance of roadbeds, tracks, and railroad culverts within the confines of road or pedestrian crossings.

The Palm Beach Post has reported that All Aboard Florida is paying $60 million for safety improvements along the tracks from Miami to West Palm Beach, while transportation officials in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties are putting up $12 million for upgrades tied to quiet zones along the tracks.

Mayfield's measure also would allow state transportation officials to offer local communities training for accidents involving rail passengers and hazardous materials.

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida has argued that the passenger rail plans could impact evacuation routes and that chemical releases or explosions could impact Florida Power & Light's St. Lucie Nuclear Plant.

The rail line, which is used to haul commercial freight, is located on the west of the Intracoastal Waterway. The nuclear power plant is on Hutchinson Island, along the eastern bank of the waterway