Update: FDOT announced statewide rail safety measures and the launch of an education initiative.
The goal is preventing additional fatalities on or near rail crossings on state roads and state-owned land crossings, said Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Secretary Kevin J. Thibault. “One fatality on our rail crossings is one too many..,” he said in a statement.
“Operation STRIDE” (Statewide Traffic and Railroad Initiative using Dynamic Envelopes) will be conducted with rail partners and media. The program will partner with law-enforcement.
Work to implement the upgrades on more than 4,000 rail crossings across Florida is anticipated to be completed by March 2022. The estimated cost is nearly $60 million and will be absorbed by FDOT over the next three fiscal years, the announcement said.
Brightline, State. Rep. Mike Caruso and the local 211 help line have teamed up to prevent train suicides.
Brightline president Patrick Goddard estimates 75 percent of deaths on their train tracks are suicides. “A cause of death isn’t confirmed for months, so it didn’t dawn on us until a year ago that people were choosing a train to end their life. It’s a national issue. We want the number to be zero.”
The incidents take a toll on Brightline conductors and engineers, who can’t stop the hi-speed trains in time, he said. “A victim will step out and I’ve heard stories they made eye contact,” Goddard said.
At Brightline’s request, and with 500 rail and transit deaths in the U.S., Caruso filed House Bill 4195. It asks for $500,000 from the state to appropriate funds so 211 can develop a regional mental health awareness program.
Tri-Rail already works with 211 Palm Beach Treasure Coast to place signs at train crossings.
Tri-Rail does see people trying to evade train crossings, but the majority are suicide victims, said Steven Abrams. “That’s why the 211 program is such an important tool,” said Abrams, executive director of South Florida Regional Transportation Authority that oversee Tri-Rail.
Caruso’s bill goes to committee next, then becomes a budget request. Brightline will make a match, Goddard announced at a Wednesday press conference at the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.
“People have to open up the conversation and talk to their kids,” said 211’s Dr. Rachel Needle.
By Marci Shatzman