Martin County has consistently maintained that threats to public safety are the most troubling facets of the proposed All Aboard Florida (AAF a.k.a Brightline) passenger rail project and related increases in freight rail. From the outset, AAF has sought to dictate the terms of what it will and will not do when it comes to safety requirements at grade crossings.
On November 3, 2015, Martin County took this issue head-on in a detailed, technical letter to AAF focused on the County’s safety priorities and its belief that AAF must install and pay for these critical items. These priorities include the use of Vehicle Presence Detection (VPD), Remote Health Monitoring (RHM) and Positive Train Control (PTC), and the importance of sealed corridor treatments and pedestrian crossing improvements. This letter followed a November 16, 2015 meeting with the FRA Safety Office, when our County engineers traveled to Washington, DC to bring these concerns and priorities directly to the agency.
AAF never acknowledged or responded to Martin County’s letter. Soon after, the County learned that the FRA Safety Office sent a letter to AAF in December 2015 detailing the agency’s position on safety requirements. Martin County, along with local officials and community groups, and U.S. Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL-08), requested a copy of the FRA letter so we could better understand the safety measures required of AAF.
On April 12, the FRA provided its response to Rep. Posey. Martin County greatly appreciates the Congressman’s efforts and diligence to obtain this. Now in receipt of the letter, Martin County’s observations and comments regarding public safety have been validated. We know the FRA Safety Office did not approve AAF’s grade crossing design plans as submitted, on the grounds that they did not meet safety guidelines.
The letter states: “FRA has determined that the highway-rail grade crossing plans submitted by AAF do not conform to the highway-rail grade crossing treatments in the FEIS…We also disagree with AAF’s assertion that AAF’s alternatives comply with FRA’s sealed corridor guidelines.”
The FRA Safety Office letter also challenges AAF and its President, Michael Reininger, with respect to the railroad’s grade crossing obligations, stating: “We are pleased to hear from Mr. Reininger that AAF is not ‘resistant to grade crossing improvement obligations’… we expect AAF to comply with the grade crossing treatments in the FEIS.”
The letter and seven-page document accompanying it contained numerous recommendations and requirements from the FRA Safety Office, including, but not limited to:
- Recommending that AAF equip all automatic highway-rail grade crossing warning systems with RHM technology
- Highlighting the importance of VPD and dismissing AAF’s assertion that the technology is unreliable in areas where lightening is present
- Rejecting AAF’s assertion that reducing the length of non-traversable medians (designed to discourage motorists from driving around the gates) is an acceptable safety alternative, and noting the requirement that AAF install exit gates at locations where it cannot achieve the required 100 feet of non-traversable median curbing.
This is merely a small sampling of the important information included in the FRA letter and attachment, and the Safety Office positions set forth in these documents are a straightforward example of the hard work the County has undertaken with respect to grade crossing safety.
County Administrator Taryn Kryzda said, “County engineers and legal counsel have worked hard to convey to AAF and the FRA the need for specific actions to ensure public safety, and the positions set forth by the FRA are encouraging.”
Despite this letter, the County’s work is by no means over. If the second phase of the AAF project is ever built, Martin County will continue its efforts to ensure AAF takes responsibility and actually pays for both the installation and maintenance of all required safety systems. Martin County unequivocally believes the long-term costs of maintaining the safety features critical to protecting the public are not the responsibility of Martin County and local taxpayers in perpetuity—an unfunded mandate for a project the County never approved.
In a memo sent to the Board of County Commissioners last week County engineers detailed the recent invoices received from Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) for maintenance work on six FEC crossings in 2015 and 2016 in the amount of $684,000. It is the County’s understanding these very same crossings will have to be reconstructed in 2017 and local taxpayers will be on the hook again.
For more resources and information on the many local and regional issues of concern relating to the proposed AAF passenger rail project, including presentations, studies, letters of concern to state and federal agencies and more, visit www.martin.fl.us. In addition, please visit the County’s social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter, for updates.