Traveling by train is generally one of the safest ways to travel. However, that’s not to say that trains don’t experience fatal crashes too. Trains getting derailed or crashing are few and far between. However, there are many incidents of trains crushing cars and people that get on the track, whether intentionally or because they couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. So which train is the deadliest train in America? That title goes to Florida’s Brightline Railroad, a privately owned rail service that runs between Miami and West Palm Beach.
Since Brightline launched in 2017, the train line has killed one person per month on average. Crashes involving the train and people hiking, on a bike, and in their cars have killed at least 68 people since the train started operation. According to the Associated Press, these figures show that Brightline has the worst death rate per mile compared to other railroads all across the nation.
Being the deadliest does not mean Brightline has the highest body count. However, according to the AP analysis, Brightline ranks number one in terms of the number of deaths per mile traveled. Statistics show that for every 37,000 traveled by a Brightline train, it experiences an accident that results in a fatality. The figures are staggering, and the next deadliest train on the list does not even come close. For context, San Francisco’s CalTrain, which is second on the list, experiences one fatality for every 105,000 miles.
Why Is Brightline the Deadliest Train in America?
In total, more than 68 lives have been lost to Brightline train accidents. This makes it one of the deadliest trains in America. This is despite the fact that the train has only been fully operational for roughly 5 years, and there was a 19-months hiatus due to the COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021.
The train line is so deadly that one would almost think it was jinxed. Even during the train’s earliest rounds of test runs, it infamously knocked down and killed somebody, kickstarting a notorious history of fatal crashes that have earned the train line an ominous reputation. It is difficult to predict the main cause of these deadly train crashes. However, several reasons explain why the fatality rate is so high.
Brightline believes that a majority of fatalities that have occurred involving the train were due to suicide. During a news conference in 2020, Ben Porritt, an official of the train line, claimed that after analyzing accident videos, 75% of the deaths recorded so far could be attributed to suicide`.
This is an unimaginably high number, and many activities don’t agree with Brightline’s attempt to pass the problem off as an industry-wide issue. Although suicide on train tracks is a fairly common phenomenon, activists say the 75% figure is exaggerated. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, only 30% of train accidents are suicides. Similarly, reports on the Federal Railroad Administration’s website claim only a handful of fatalities involving Brightline are suicide.
The Location Of The Tracks
Perhaps a more plausible explanation for the high rate of Brightline accidents and fatalities is the location of the train line itself. A high-speed express train service running through a densely populated urban area is a recipe for accidents. This is not the first and only train service that passes through a dense urban area. However, the people in this part of Florida aren’t really familiar with passenger service trains.
The train track itself has been in existence for more than 100 years. The Florida East Coast Railway arrived in Miami in April 1896. At the time, only 444 people lived in that part of the city. The entire city developed around the train tracks, with the railroad playing a significant role in the area’s development. However, the nature of the passenger trains and their speed make them more problematic for the particularly congested area.
Poor Infrastructure Design
But perhaps the biggest reason why Brightline ranks high as the deadliest train in America is poor infrastructure design. The railway that Brightline operates on is too uniquely positioned for the type of safety infrastructure built for it. A simple comparison between the number of street-level crossings and that of similar train tracks shows that Brightline’s tracks are simply too dangerous
For instance, CalTrain’s tracks feature only 41-grade crossings on 77 miles of track. But the part of the Florida East Coast rail line that Brightline uses features 178 rail crossings on 66.5 miles. That’s four times the number of crossings on a train line that is up to 10 miles shorter.
Speed And Frequency Of The Trains
The frequency and speed of the passenger trains are other factors that make them so dangerous. Brightline isn’t the fastest passenger train in the country. However, even before Brightline started operating, the FEC was one of the most dangerous train tracks in America. Traveling at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour on such tracks does not help matters. The Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) operates on the same tracks as the Brightline, and it only experiences one death every 160,000 miles. The major reason for the difference is that FEC Railway trains are freight trains moving at a much slower rate. Interestingly, despite being too fast to be safe already, there are plans to reach even higher speeds with this train line.
Failure To Adhere To Safety Recommendations
Many activists and families of casualties involving Brightline trains claim that the company’s negligence is the major cause of the deaths. For a train that operates in such a hotspot, traveling at high speeds and with a lot of crossings, the safety measures in place are simply too insufficient to prevent accidents.
In 2018, Brightline announced that it would be investing in additional safety efforts. In response to repeated complaints and recommendations from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to increase safety features at the railed crossings. However, only a few supplemental safety features were implemented, and they have proven to be inefficient. The company repeatedly refuses to pay for improving safety features at the crossings because they want the government to implement them instead.
There have been numerous protests by families of victims of Brightline accidents and activists in the State. Still, there seems to be no headway as officials and regulators seem to be slacking in addressing the issues. A safety assessment investigation carried out in 2018 recommended several rail safety measures. Yet, the Florida Department of Transportation did not implement them. In 2020, the Effort to introduce state legislation to boost public safety at rail crossings did not work out.
Brightline’s major response to the crisis was to campaign aggressively for public awareness about the dangers of crossing the fences and trespassing on the track. However, there’s only so much this can do with an 80 mph train traveling in a potentially hazardous area where it operates.
Despite the abysmal figures, recent reports show that Brightline (the deadliest train in America) is planning an expansion worth $4 billion. This will take the rail line from West Palm Beach down to West Orlando. Hopefully, it does not continue its deadly run.
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