MELBOURNE, Fla. – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has announced its investigation into two separate crashes involving a Brightline train that resulted in the deaths of three individuals at the same railroad crossing on the train’s route between Miami and Orlando. These incidents occurred on Wednesday and Friday at a crossing along the U.S. 1 corridor in Melbourne, Florida, where the high-speed train passes through on its daily routes to and from South Florida. According to an Associated Press database, there have been a total of five deaths since Brightline launched the 160-mile extension connecting South Florida and Orlando in September.
The fatal crash on Friday claimed the lives of Lisa Ann Batchelder, 52, and Michael Anthony Degasperi, 54, both of Melbourne. On Wednesday, Charles Julian Phillips, 62, was killed when his vehicle was struck by the train, with three passengers sustaining injuries, as reported by the Melbourne police.
Mayor Paul Alfrey of Melbourne addressed reporters at the scene and revealed that the SUV had attempted to outrun the train. He expressed his intention to engage with Brightline officials to launch another public safety campaign to caution drivers against crossing railroad tracks when the arm is down, emphasizing the higher speeds at which the train travels. Alfrey stated, “There’s no good outcome with a train. This is an unfortunate situation. We have the loss of life again.”
Brightline trains, distinguishable by their bright neon yellow color, reach speeds of up to 125 mph (201 kph) in certain areas. The 235-mile (378-kilometer) journey between Miami and Orlando, which takes an average driver around 3.5 hours, can be completed by the train in about 30 minutes less. The NTSB team has commenced its on-site investigation, expected to span several days, starting from Saturday.
NTSB spokeswoman Sarah Taylor Sulick confirmed that the investigation aims to comprehend the safety concerns at the crossing and explore potential measures to prevent or mitigate future crashes. A preliminary report will be issued within 30 days, while the final report is anticipated to be released in 12 to 24 months.
Brightline has yet to respond to an email seeking comment. However, the company has installed warning signs near crossings to alert drivers to the presence of fast-moving trains.
This week’s three fatalities in Melbourne contribute to a total of at least 108 deaths since Brightline commenced operations in July 2017. The Associated Press analysis, ongoing since 2019, reveals that this equates to one death for every approximately 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) traveled, making it the railroad with the highest death rate among over 800 railroads in the United States. California’s Caltrain commuter line possesses the second-worst rate, averaging one death for every 125,000 miles (201,000 kilometers) traveled since 2017, among U.S. railroads that log at least 100,000 train-miles annually.
Thus far, none of Brightline’s previous fatalities have been attributed to the railroad’s negligence. The majority have involved suicides, pedestrians attempting to cross the tracks ahead of the train, or drivers circumventing crossing gates instead of waiting.
The NTSB spokesperson provided News 6 with a statement affirming their intention to investigate the crash history, including the earlier incident. The on-scene portion of the investigation commenced with the arrival of NTSB investigators, who will document the scene and collect perishable information over the next few days. A preliminary report summarizing the gathered factual information will be released within 30 days, followed by the final findings in 12 to 24 months.
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