All Aboard! Derailment fuels train wars

A Treasure Coast derailment in February that was kept hidden from state lawmakers is fueling the battle over All Aboard Florida‘s “Brightline” passenger train.

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) issued a press release yesterday regarding the derailment, which happened during a test run in February and resulted in more than $400,000 in damage.

The passenger line will connect Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with service to Orlando eventually.

According to the press release, the derailment was confirmed by the Federal Railroad Administration. The derailment came days before All Aboard Florida officials testified before a state committee.

“Soon after this incident, AAF officials attended not one but two state legislative hearings about rail safety and never once disclosed facts about the derailment, while they sought to table the safety legislation under consideration,” Brent Hanlon, Chairman of CARE FL, said in the release.

Here’s more from CARE FL’s release:

Since CARE FL’s inception it has served as a watchdog in the Treasure Coast region, shining a light on AAF’s less-than-transparent approach to building this ill-conceived and dangerous rail project.

A May 30, 2017 letter from CARE FL’s legal team notified the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FRA about the incident, inquiring whether AAF filed the proper notifications within the appropriate time frame, and requesting that DOT/FRA publicly address whether the derailment occurred, so that our community would know the facts.

“It is unfortunate that Martin County is forced to spend taxpayer money to make sure our safety concerns are addressed at the state and federal levels. A simple confirmation of a derailment took three months to get from DOT, but six months after the derailment itself. We would have never known about this significant public safety issue had we not demanded to know the facts,” said Ruth Holmes, Senior Assistant Martin County Attorney.

According to the FRA’s response letter dated August 21, 2017, “a Brightline locomotive derailed its trailing truck while negotiating a switch at four miles per hour within the Brightline yard facility.” The letter also states that Brightline and FEC “promptly” notified FRA officials of the February 11, 2017 incident.

Hanlon commented, “All you have to do is look at numerous opportunities they had to share this important and relevant information.”

February 11, 2017 – date of derailment according to FRA letter
February 22, 2017 – Florida House Workshop on High Speed Passenger Rail. Myles Tobin, General Counsel of AAF testifies but fails to mention the derailment of train.
March 2017 – CARE FL receives information from knowledgeable rail source that derailment occurred. CARE FL searches for but is unable to find a derailment report. FRA safety staff is unaware of the incident.
March 12, 2017 – Florida Senate Transportation Committee hearing on High Speed Passenger Rail Safety legislation. AAF Vice President Rusty Roberts testifies and, again, fails to mention derailment.
April 4, 2017 – Michael Reininger, then President of Brightline, authors opinion editorial, “All Aboard Florida goes extra mile to address rail safety,” touting AAF going the extra mile to address rail safety. Again, no discussion of the incident.

CARE FL, Martin County and Indian River County have repeatedly expressed their public safety concerns and have worked diligently to address ways to keep the residents of the Treasure Coast community out of harm’s way.

“The disconnect between the derailment and AAF’s failure to make it public is disturbing,” said Dylan Reingold, Indian River County Attorney. “The safety and well- being of our communities require greater transparency.”

The FRA also pledged to “continue to provide oversight of this railroad, as it has from its inception, to ensure that the operation meets or exceeds the safety requirements set by Federal regulations.”

We will hold the FRA to that commitment.