POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – A woman and her 1-year-old grandson were inside a car that was hit by a Brightline train Monday — the first day the higher-speed trains resumed passenger service after a nearly 20-month pandemic pause.
The victims were rushed to Broward Health North with non-life-threatening injuries, authorities said. The 71-year-old woman suffered broken bones and the toddler did not appear to be seriously hurt.
“It’s a blessing,” the child’s father Evans told Local 10 News. He did not want to give his last name. “Nobody should have come out alive in this type of crash. Nobody.”
The collision occurred in the area of Northeast Third Street and North Flagler Avenue in Pompano Beach at about 10:21 a.m.
None of the 53 passengers on the train were hurt, including Brightline President Patrick Goddard, who was en route from West Palm Beach to the Fort Lauderdale station for a ceremony to mark the resumption of passenger service. This was the inaugural train.
According to Pompano Beach Fire Rescue officials, the train was heading south when the grandmother driving east turned onto the tracks instead of the road for an unknown reason. Surveillance video from a nearby business showed the collision.
“She was literally on the tracks when the southbound Brightline train headed her way,” said Sandra King, a spokeswoman for the city of Pompano Beach. “As she was trying to maneuver the car off the tracks, she didn’t get it off on time, and the train struck the back end of the car.”
Witnesses rushed to help out the two people in the car, including a Broward County Transit bus driver and a Brightline worker who was on the train and happens to be a retired firefighter. The young boy was in the back seat.
“You really are a miracle baby right now, because you could’ve been gone,” Evans said.
Sky 10 flew over the scene where the crumpled car remained. Traffic in the area was tied up for hours, but the intersection has since reopened. An investigation into the crash is underway.
“Everybody came over and helped,” said Haassan Abid, who works nearby. “So that was good.”
Brightline, a private company that began operations in 2017, paused in March 2020, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, and was just resuming hourly service between Miami and West Palm Beach.
“What I can tell you is that everything operated as it was supposed to,” Goddard said. “The gates were down, the bells were ringing, the lights were on.”
The train travels at speeds of up to 79 mph through some of Florida’s most densely populated cities.
Brightline says it continues to put out educational campaigns warning drivers about the dangers of crossing tracks as trains are incoming.
“This is a problem that’s endemic to the railroad industry. We invest a lot of dollars, resources and manhours into educating and creating awareness in the community around railroad crossings,” Goddard said. “I understand that there was no fatality today, but it could easily have been.”
During the pandemic shutdown, Brightline has continued laying track for its planned expansion from South Florida to Orlando and its theme parks. That route is set to open in late 2022 or early 2023.
Brightline then plans to open a line between Orlando and Tampa and one between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
As they return to service, company officials said all employees will be vaccinated against COVID-19 and, following federal regulations, they will mandate masks for crew and passengers inside its trains and stations.