OPPAGA Study – click this link for the complete study.
The Florida Passenger Rail System Study examined all existing and planned passenger rail systems in Florida that are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Railroad Administration. This includes 4 systems: Amtrak, Brightline, SunRail, and Tri-Rail. The study includes three components:
- A detailed inventory and description of the Florida Passenger Rail System focusing on operating passenger railroad companies and planned passenger rail projects.
- An analysis of incident data involving passenger rail operations and grade crossings.
- An overview of jurisdictions that regulate passenger rail operations on a federal, state, regional and local level, including the establishment and expansion of services; reporting of railroad incidents and rectification of safety issues; and maintenance of tracks, crossing and safety equipment.
Based on the findings of the three parts of the study, this report introduces a set of recommendations to improve passenger rail operations, safety, and railroad policy in Florida.
The key issues with Florida’s passenger rail system are as follows.
- High rate of severe injuries and fatalities and high levels of trespassing incidents on railroad right of way due to rail services operating in dense urban areas
- Gaps in regulations that are specific to higher-speed rail operations and a series of rail expansion projects
- The need to clarify FDOT’s mandate on oversight of passenger rail with respect to maintenance, safety, revitalization, and expansion
- The lack of resources for local governments for planning rail projects
Florida’s passenger rail system incurs a higher rate of severe injuries and fatalities than the national average. Over the last 10 years, Florida’s passenger railroads experienced a total of 1,395 incidents. Forty-nine percent of these incidents involved severe injuries and fatalities – 1,317 severe injuries and 137 fatalities over this time period.1 Florida’s average severe injury rate is 1.5 times higher and its average fatality rate is 3.5 times higher than the overall national rate over the analysis period (2009-2018). This higher rate of severe injuries and fatalities is primarily attributable to a higher count of trespassing incidents for both pedestrians and vehicles. Trespassing cases represent 27 percent of Florida incidents resulting in severe injuries and fatalities, compared to 19 percent nationwide.
Two new passenger rail services, SunRail and Brightline, began operating in Florida within the last three years. Each service has experienced a series of incidents during its start-up period. The high rate of incidents for each service may be explained by passengers and drivers getting used to the presence of more trains and trains operating at higher speeds. However, these incidents have not had a significant effect on the state’s average fatality and injury rates. Brightline began operations in January 2018 and will be the first privately-owned, higher-speed rail service in the United States, defined by a speed between 81 mph and 125 mph. A number of expansion projects are underway.