A pedestrian died after being hit by the Brightline fast train that will connect the city of Miami with Orlando, which caused a delay of 30 minutes in the inauguration of the route of what is considered "the fastest train in the United States".
The death was reported by police in the city of Delray Beach, Florida, and the delay was confirmed by representatives of the railroad company Brightline to the local NBC News station.
According to authorities, the pedestrian was struck and died after being struck by a Brightline heading from West Palm Beach to Miami.
A Brightline train arrives at Fort Lauderdale Station on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Friday was the first day of rapid rail service between Miami, in South Florida, and Orlando, in the center of the state.
The Brightline train can reach speeds of 125 mph (200 km/h), but in urban areas it reduces its speed to 110 mph (177 km/h), The Associated Press reported.
Brightline trains have the highest fatality rate in the United States. A total of 98 people have been fatally struck since operations began between Miami and West Palm, about one death per 32,000 miles (51,500 kilometers), according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data that began in 2019. The next major railroad on that list has one fatality per 130,000 miles (209,200 kilometers).
None of the deaths have been determined to be Brightline's fault: most have been suicides, drivers disrespecting crossing barriers or pedestrians crossing the roadways. The company had not had any fatalities since June, its longest period, except for the closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The development of Brightline has suffered several setbacks. The pandemic forced the line between Miami and West Palm Beach to close for 17 months. A 2018 partnership with billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group to rebrand Brightline as Virgin Trains USA quickly soured. Brightline ended the partnership in 2020 and Virgin filed a lawsuit in London. According to the lawsuit, Brightline says Virgin "ceased to be a brand of great international reputation, largely due to issues related to the pandemic." The case is pending.
The company's mortality rate worries authorities in the area where it now spreads.
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Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers said a Brightline official seemed insensitive during a recent meeting, explaining that he seemed more concerned with explaining Brightline's protocol for getting passengers to their destination after an accident than how he deals with the issue of deaths.
"They don't seem to feel any empathy for our community. We're just on their way," said Flowers, whose county includes Vero Beach. "It's a cost to them of doing business [the fact] that they're going to run over some people."
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For its part, Brightline has said it has taken steps that its managers believe improve safety, such as adding closed-circuit cameras near the tracks, installing better barriers at crosswalks and pedestrian barriers, and placing signs that include information about the suicide prevention hotline.
"We have invested a lot in infrastructure to have a safe corridor," Reininger said. We continue to operate literally every day with safety as a priority."
Fortress Investment Group, which owns Brightline, has made a $5 billion bet because it believes that, over time, eight million people a year will make this 000.3-hour, 5-mile (235-kilometer) trip between the state's top tourist hubs: Miami and Orlando.
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The company will charge passengers $158 per person for a round-trip economy class and $298 for first class, while families and groups will be able to buy four round-trip tickets for $398. A total of 32 trains will run daily.
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Brightline, which began running its neon yellow trains 112 miles (70 kilometers) between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2018, is the first private intercity passenger service to operate in the United States in a century.
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The company is also building a line connecting Southern California and Las Vegas, which it hopes to open in 2027 with trains reaching 190 mph (305 km/h). The only other high-speed line in the United States is Amtrak's Acela service between Boston and Washington, D.C., which began operating in 2000. Amtrak is owned by the federal government.