National Transportation Safety Board to Investigate Two Fatal Crashes Involving Brightline Trains
MELBOURNE, Fla. — In a tragic turn of events, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has announced its investigation into two separate crashes involving Brightline trains that resulted in the loss of three lives. These incidents occurred at the same railroad crossing along the U.S. 1 corridor in Melbourne, Florida, which lies on the high-speed train’s route between Miami and Orlando.
The first crash took place on Wednesday, claiming the life of 62-year-old Charles Julian Phillips. Phillips was driving a vehicle that was struck by the train, resulting in his untimely demise. Additionally, three passengers in the vehicle suffered injuries, as reported by the Melbourne police. The second crash occurred on Friday and resulted in the deaths of Lisa Ann Batchelder, 52, and Michael Anthony Degasperi, 54, both residents of Melbourne.
Since the launch of Brightline’s 160-mile extension that connects South Florida and Orlando on September 22, there have been a total of five fatalities recorded, according to data compiled by the Associated Press. These incidents have raised concerns regarding the safety measures in place at the crossing.
Melbourne Mayor Paul Alfrey, who was present at the scene, revealed that the SUV involved in the crash attempted to outrun the approaching train. He expressed his intention to discuss another public safety campaign with Brightline officials, emphasizing the importance of adhering to the safety precautions and not crossing railroad tracks when the arm is down.
Brightline trains, easily recognized by their bright neon yellow appearance, can reach speeds of up to 125 mph in certain areas. The journey between Miami and Orlando, spanning 235 miles, takes approximately 3.5 hours, offering a time-saving advantage over driving.
The NTSB team has commenced its investigation and is expected to remain at the scene for several days starting from Saturday. NTSB spokeswoman Sarah Taylor Sulick stated that the primary goal of the investigation is to gain a deeper understanding of the safety issues surrounding the crossing and to explore potential measures to prevent or mitigate similar accidents in the future. A preliminary report is expected to be released within 30 days, followed by a final report in 12 to 24 months.
Brightline has yet to respond to requests for comment; however, the company has taken proactive steps to warn drivers about the high-speed trains by placing warning signs near the crossings.
Notably, this week’s three fatalities in Melbourne add to the already staggering count of 108 deaths since Brightline’s commencement of operations in July 2017. The ongoing analysis conducted by the Associated Press, which began in 2019, reveals that Brightline holds the worst death rate among the nation’s 800 railroads, averaging one death for every 38,000 miles traveled. In comparison, California’s Caltrain commuter line has the second-worst rate, with one death per 125,000 miles traveled.
It is important to note that none of Brightline’s previous deaths have been attributed to the railroad’s fault. Suicides, pedestrians attempting to cross the tracks ahead of the train, and drivers who circumvent the crossing gates have been the primary causes of these incidents.
In a separate incident on December 19, a pedestrian was struck and killed by a Brightline train in downtown West Palm Beach. The accident occurred near the Palm Beach County Courthouse, just a few blocks north of the West Palm Beach Brightline station. West Palm Beach police spokesman Mike Jachles confirmed that the crossing arms were down at the time of the incident.
Despite these unfortunate incidents, Brightline recently announced an increase in service between Orlando and Miami. The company now operates 32 trains daily, with 16 departures from each city. This enhancement in service comes just months after the initial launch when there were only eight trains per day in each direction.
The investigation into these crashes serves as a critical reminder of the importance of adhering to safety precautions at railroad crossings. The NTSB’s findings and recommendations will play a crucial role in preventing similar accidents and ensuring the safety of both passengers and drivers along Brightline’s route.