A Brightline train killed a bicyclist Wednesday in Boynton Beach — the higher-speed line’s second fatality in a week.
The man became the fourth person killed by a Brightline train since this summer.
In the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s fatality, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wrote a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, asking whether enough has been done to boost safety. He called the crossing deaths a “critical safety issue.”
“I urge you to examine these incidents and to review the safety of rail crossings, particularly for higher speed trains,” Nelson wrote. “Also, please provide additional information on what actions the Department has taken to address highway-rail grade crossing safety.”
On Wednesday, Jeffrey D. King, 51, was riding his bicycle when he was struck at 4:26 p.m. in the 100 block of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks on Ocean Avenue, said Stephanie Slater, a spokeswoman for the Boynton Beach Police Department.
“Investigators determined he pedaled around the gates, which were down, in an attempt to beat the approaching train,” Slater said.
A Brightline spokesperson said: “Local authorities are on the scene, and we are engaged with them as they begin their investigation.”
Cindy Sumlin, who owns a business about 50 yards from Wednesday’s crash site, said the new express train flies through the area and pedestrians and bicyclists need to wise up before they try to hustle across the tracks.
“People feel that they can beat the train and apparently they can’t,” she told Sun Sentinel news partner WPEC-CBS12. “I really think people should be a little more aware that this train is going extremely fast and they can die. If you want to be stupid enough to try to go through there, you’re going to get hit, because the train is going too fast.”
Wednesday’s fatality came five days after the higher-speed train hit and killed a pedestrian as she crossed the tracks last Friday during a VIP ride for business leaders from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach.
Brightline was testing its trains before it began running introductory service on Saturday.
Melissa Lavell, 32, according to witnesses, was on the tracks in the 600 block of the FEC tracks on Friday evening after the gates were in the down position as she tried to make it across before the train approached.
“It’s always unfortunate when there’s an accident like that,” Brightline president and COO Patrick Goddard said the next day. “Certainly, safety is our top priority and when these [incidents] occur, as they do, we’re prepared.”
Another woman died in July after she was hit in Boca Raton. Her death was investigated as a suicide.
In November, a second woman was on the tracks in Deerfield Beach when she was struck.
“It’s very important that the community understands how to behave and act around railroads,” Goddard said. “There are laws against [trespassing] and that’s critical.”
Brightline’s introductory service runs between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Service to Miami is expected in coming months, and service to Orlando is planned by late 2020.
The Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization is overseeing safety modifications being done at all railroad crossings so that Brightline, Tri-Rail and freight trains will no longer have to sound their horns at every crossing, creating what are known as “quiet zones.”
Boynton Beach City Commissioner Joe Casello said Wednesday he will ask for the city’s support to push Brightline to make more safety improvements.
“I’m concerned these kind of incidents are going to become more frequent,” Casello said of the deaths. “My fear is that once these crossings become quiet zones, these type of incidents will become the norm.”
Because of a double suicide on the tracks in Hollywood, more modifications were made along the FEC tracks in that vicinity.
“We’ve added an additional $700,000 worth of infrastructure improvements over the last six months because there have been several additional fatalities on the [railroad] corridor in Broward County,” said Greg Stuart, the MPO’s executive director. “A couple in Hollywood actually committed suicide together in front of a freight train and that actually changed the calculations. We had to put some additional safety features in, more rail crossing features.”