MIAMI – After Richard Branson announced his Virgin Group would partner with Brightline, Florida’s new higher-speed passenger rail service, a train whisked the British billionaire, VIPs and journalists from Miami to West Palm Beach in just over an hour and then back, with no problems.
That was likely a great relief to railroad staff who have dealt with a higher than average number of deaths involving the sleek, neon-yellow trains, which travel at speeds of up to 79 mph (127 kph) through some of Florida’s most densely populated cities.
The first death involving a Brightline train, which officially launched in January 2018, happened in July 2017 during test runs. Since then, 40 more have been killed — a rate of more than one a month and about one for every 29,000 miles (47,000 kilometers) the trains have traveled, according to an analysis of Federal Railroad Administration data by The Associated Press.
That’s the worst per-mile death rate of the nation’s 821 railroads.
None of Brightline’s deaths were caused by crew error or faulty equipment, according to law enforcement and federal reports. The majority have been suicides, while most others involved impatient motorists, pedestrians or bicyclists who misjudged the trains’ speed and ignored bells, gates or other warnings. Drugs, alcohol or both have been found in many victims’ systems.
Brightline President Patrick Goddard said while the deaths are not the company’s fault, he and his colleagues need to get the number under control.
“This is something we obsess about. ... It’s tragic,” said Goddard.
He said each death devastates Brightline’s crew members and interrupts operations, sometimes for hours.