South Florida’s Brightline rail line has been reported as one of the most dangerous in the country, striking cars and pedestrians dozens of times in recent years after they move on to railroad tracks, according to a federal database.
The train runs on the track owned by the Florida East Coast Railway and has three stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration online database, Brightline trains collided with cars or pedestrians 85 times since the rail line launched in 2018.
“The odds of beating the train are not in your favor and the results are tragic,” Broward County Sheriff’s Office Colonel Steve Robson said at an unveiling of “Operation Crossing Guard,” a safety operation on Brightline tracks.
The route spans Miami-Dade County to Palm Beach County. According to the online database, at least 27 people have died, and 30 others have been injured in the collisions. Nearly all were caused by cars or people moving onto the tracks when the train comes between 60-80 miles per hour.
“Never drive around the crossing gates. It’s never ok to try and beat a train,” Ben Porritt, Senior VP of Brightline said at a press conference earlier this year.
NBC 6 Investigators analyzed data from the Department of Transportation and reviewed our coverage of recent accidents, and found the crossings with the most accidents in South Florida are in Broward County. We found the crossings with the most casualties and collisions were NE 33rd street in Deerfield Beach, Copans Road in Pompano Beach, and between Atlantic Boulevard and NW 6th Street in Pompano Beach.
Six collisions were between Atlantic Blvd and NW 6th Street in Pompano Beach, according to the database. Just down the road at Copans Road, a pedestrian, and then on a different day, a woman on a scooter moved onto the tracks against the signal and died by an ongoing train. Two others died and another was injured in four crashes at Northeast 33rd street in Deerfield Beach.
NBC 6 Investigators put a hidden camera in a rock look-a-like for several days on the public sidewalk across the street from the crossings. The NBC 6 team also recorded with cellphones.
Flashing lights and blaring sirens did not stop drivers from trying to gun it through the intersection before the arms came down on Northeast 33rd Street. Some drivers didn’t make it and stopped in the middle of oncoming traffic to wait for the train to pass. One driver, realizing it wasn’t a safe place to stop, sped off in the other direction.
“A lot of this is an education issue,” Porritt said in June 2022.
A Brightline spokesperson wouldn’t comment specifically about what we saw at the intersections but pointed to safety programs they’re applying for. Porritt told NBC 6 earlier this year the company is putting up $10 million to hopefully match with millions from the state and federal government to enhance safety at the crossings.
“Heed to the safety equipment that is there. It’s no different than stopping at a red light. You can’t drive through a red light. You can’t drive around a rail grade,” Porritt said.
During “Operation Crossing Guard” in June, Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies issued hundreds of citations, including 157 for stopping on the tracks, 146 for driving through or around crossing gate arms, 122 for entering the crossing without space to clear, and 90 for blocking an intersection or a crosswalk. Risky driving around these crossings could cost drivers up to $200 in a fine – or more importantly, it could cost a life.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade Counties are all in the top ten counties nationwide with the most railway crossing casualties. Since 2020, the FRA has hired an inspector specifically for South Florida, given out $192,000 in safety grants, and organized town halls to draw attention to the issue.
“The Federal Railroad Administration is committed to working in tandem with state and local officials and railroads to prevent grade crossing collisions and incidents involving pedestrians along railroad rights-of-way. We will continue to support efforts to improve infrastructure and adopt engineering solutions that increase safety in communities along rail lines,” an FRA spokesperson wrote to NBC 6.
Earlier in the summer, as part of their trespassing and suicide prevention grant program, the FRA gave $120,000 to the Broward Sheriff’s Office to prevent trespassing on the tracks. The money will be used to focus on removing people who are homeless to nearby shelters. The city of Hollywood Police Department received $120,000 to watch trespassing hot spots.
“No mission is more important than saving lives, and FRA is fully committed to supporting states and communities in the collective effort to prevent avoidable tragedies,” said FRA Administrator Amit Bose.