Is Brightline bad for South Florida boating business?

Some boaters concerned expanded service will lead to more New River congestion

By Todd Tongen - Anchor/Reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - There is a growing problem in Fort Lauderdale regarding Brightline, a bridge and boaters. 

Every time a train travels the tracks near the New River, the bridge is dropped and navigation on the New River stops.

The 11 Brightline round trips mean 22 stoppages, which is bad for boating business.

"The frequency of the openings -- this is a major portal for all of the boatyards that are up the river," said Jim Naugle, of Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

Marine industry officials said not only are 136,000 jobs at risk, but recreational boating in South Florida is at risk too.

"The more time the bridge is down, the more there is going to be a traffic tie-up and delay and hindrance to navigation," recreational boater Darren Alline said. 

Alline, who is also WPLG's chief engineer, has been boating in and out of the New River for years. He said the downed bridge causes dangerous backups.

"There are small boats. There are boaters that don’t know a lot about what they are doing. There are giant yachts in the mix, and if they bump into one of these small boats, it is going to be a disaster," Alline said. 

According to U.S. Coast Guard rules, the bridge can only be in a down position for up to 60 minutes every two hours.

"And they realize they are violating it and they are trying to get it where they are in compliance. We will have to ask the Coast Guard to suspend service if they can't solve the problem," Naugle said. 

The rail service company has released a statement saying: "Brightline is working closely with Florida East Coast Railway, our train dispatch partner, Florida Dispatch Company and the U.S. Coast Guard, to minimize closures and to provide notice to the U.S. Coast Guard and the marine community of anticipated closures."

But in the next month, Brightline is expanding service to 16 trains per day. A representative for Brightline said the schedule was built around the New River, "so two passenger trains cross the river during the same cycle, meaning the bridge only has to go down once per hour for freight traffic."

That's no reassurance for boaters in the area.

"In addition, Broward County is expanding Port Everglades and there is more and more freight, which means there will be more freight trains and longer freight trains," Naugle said. 

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