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Brightline rolls out digital signs warning drivers, pedestrians of high-speed trains

Posted at 10:17 PM, Jan 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-22 22:18:24-05

Brightline has started to roll out phase one of its new plan to make rail crossings safer for pedestrians and drivers.

Last week, the president of Brightline promised to take action after two people died trying to beat his trains during week one of service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

And this week, drivers and pedestrians are starting to see the promise fulfilled, with large electronic signs popping up at busy railroad crossings across the area. 

Starting on Monday, Brightline put in place digital signs at critical intersections along the high-speed corridor. The signs read "drive safely", “stay off the train tracks” and “More and faster trains".

"We ask ourselves every day, if there's any way we can make our equipment safe," said Brightline president Patrick Goddard on Friday.

The safety measures come after three separate incidents marred Brightline’s first week of service.  On Jan. 12, 32-year old Melissa Lavell was killed after witnesses say she and a friend ducked under active railroad crossing arms in Boynton Beach and tried to beat the train. Last Wednesday, 51-year old Jeffrey King was killed after police say he also passed under crossing arms and was struck by a Brightline train at Ocean Avenue in Boynton Beach.

Here are the locations of the signs so far as of Monday:

  • Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach
  • 10th Avenue North, Lake Worth
  • Palmetto Park Boulevard, Boca Raton
  • Lucerne Avenue, Lake Worth

Brightline told WPTV on that they are working to put more signs in Lantana, West Palm Beach and Boynton Beach.

But some pedestrians like David Flosdorf and his wife -- who both walk frequently throughout downtown West Palm Beach -- worry if the signs are enough.

"If you're watching traffic, you're not going to be reading a lot of signs. You need gates," said Flosdorf.

We watched the duo cautiously cross the Rosemary Avenue intersection of the tracks right at the entrance of the train station.

"We've heard about the accidents they've had with pedestrians so we looked both ways before crossing to make sure nothing was coming," said Flosdorf.

He said he believes there needs to be more crossing arms put in place at crucial intersection. By law, crossing arms only need to be on the side that goes with traffic but Flosdorf thinks there should be an exception with Brightline.

"They need gates that come down. They need gates with things dropping down so that people can't duck under them. I mean, there's got to be a good barrier," he pointed out.

Meanwhile, the city of Delray Beach is all too familiar with people crossing the train tracks at the wrong time.

"This is one of our busier roads in the city," said city commissioner Shelly Petrolia, looking out at the busy Atlantic Avenue train crossing.

A woman was killed on Atlantic Avenue in 2016 while trying to take a shortcut between the bars and restaurants. The spot -- near Railroad Avenue and Atlantic Avenue -- was a common area for people to cut across the restricted area of the tracks for easier and quicker access to the rest of the shops, bars and restaurants between both sides of downtown area.

"This particular woman didn't judge it right and was hit by a train and killed. She was with her husband. It was a horrible situation," said Petrolia.

The incident prompted city leaders to install a fence to prevent people from illegally crossing through the dangerous and restricted area of the tracks.

"And especially knowing that we were going to have the Brightline train coming through -- at a much greater speed -- people weren't going to be able to judge how to get through the tracks quicker," said Petrolia. “Many of those that were involved in sending the Brightline train through didn’t foresee the impact of going through a very heavily populated downtown and what that can mean.”

With the new digital signs, the city has another line of defense against another tragedy.

"I think it's a start, for making people more aware of what they're doing. Whether they’re slow moving trains or fast, they need to be aware. And they need to look both ways," said Kathryn Deboo, who lives in Delray Beach. "I think whatever the city is doing and whatever Brightline is doing is the best that they can do."

On Monday evening while reporting on this story, WPTV observed two people duck under the railroad crossing arms and run through the track before the Brightline train approached. This was after the digital signs had already been placed at the intersection.

"I think it's nice to make things safer but I also think people need to pay attention to railroad crossings. These are trains, you should use your common sense not to try to cut under the gate or run across, just take your time and wait and be safe," said Sheree Nicholl, who also lives in Delray Beach.

The signs will remain in place indefinitely, with more signage to appear at crossings in the coming days.

"I think it's important, and I think it needs to go even further than that," said Petrolia.

And according to Brightline, it will. The company says it will also have "street ambassadors" stand at the busiest intersections and hand out train safety fliers in the coming weeks. There is no definitive word yet on when they will hit the streets.