Following Brightline Deaths, Mast Calls For Committee Hearing on High Speed Rail Safety
Mast: Stop Running Brightline Trains Until They’re Verified As Safe
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18) today called on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to hold an oversight hearing on high speed rail safety in Florida following multiple deaths caused by Brightline trains. Rep. Mast also echoed a bipartisan call from Senator Bill Nelson asking Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to investigate the deaths and review safety of railway crossings. Until those investigations are complete, Rep. Mast is calling for the suspension of previously authorized taxpayer-funded federal bonds and the suspension of all Brightline train routes.
“Brightline needs to take responsibility for the fact that their trains are killing people. This is a massive public safety issue, so today I’m calling on Brightline to stop running until Congress has the opportunity to review these serious issues, the Department of Transportation has the time to do a thorough safety review and officials can independently verify that the railway is safe,” Rep. Mast said. “These deaths clearly indicate there are safety issues, and Brightline has a long history of straight up lying to the people of Florida, so at this point they cannot be trusted to decide whether their trains are safe.”
Rep. Mast has been a fierce opponent of the Brightline project, arguing that it will disrupt our way of life on the Treasure Coast, lower property values and risk public safety. Last year, Florida East Coast Industries’ executive director Mike Reininger, who runs the parent company of Brightline and previously served as the CEO of All Aboard Florida, testified about financing for All Aboard Florida/Brightline before Congress. At the hearing, Rep. Mast exposed numerous ways that Brightline is deceiving people in Florida about their funding sources.
Since that hearing, despite continuing to claim that Brightline is “not publicly funded at all,” Brightline secured $1.15 billion in tax-exempt federal bonds, which a District Court judge found would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Today, Rep. Mast is asking the Department of Transportation to conduct a thorough review of Brightline’s safety and reconsider issuing the bonds.
The text of the letter is below:
January 18, 2018
The Honorable Bill ShusterChairman
House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure
2165 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Jeff Denham
Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines & Hazardous Materials
2029 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Re: Safety of All Aboard Florida/Brightline Passenger Rail Project
Dear Chairmen Shuster and Denham:
I write regarding the safety of the All Aboard Florida (AAF)/Brightline passenger rail project. This project is of great concern to many of my constituents, and I share their concerns.
Late last week, AAF/Brightline began running its passenger trains along Phase I (Miami to West Palm Beach). In less than one week, two individuals have been killed by the train. These tragic deaths exemplify the concerns I have with the safety of this project, and I urge the Committee to hold a hearing to examine these incidents and the safety of AAF/Brightline, including its many at-grade crossings.
AAF/Brightline trains use the tracks of the Florida East Coast Railway (FECR), meaning higher speed AAF/Brightline trains will be sharing the tracks with longer, slower freight trains. According to fatality reports from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), there have been 105 deaths along the 351 mile FECR corridor since 2011.
Most recently, since AAF/Brightline began its test runs, there have been four additional fatalities since July 2017 (the most recent two included) when individuals were hit by AAF/Brightline trains.
In addition, it was brought to my attention last year that an AAF/Brightline train derailed during a test run, resulting in $408,000 of equipment damage. This incident only became public months after it occurred, as the result of a FOIA request.
AAF/Brightline currently has two Private Activity Bond (PAB) allocations from the Department of Transportation (DOT)—$600 million for Phase I, and $1.15 billion for Phase II (West Palm Beach to Orlando, the phase of the project that would run directly through my congressional district without stopping). Before one penny of government subsidized funding is spent on this project, I believe the DOT and our Committee must thoroughly investigate the safety issues related to AAF/Brightline.
Please let me know at your earliest convenience when the Committee can schedule a hearing on this important rail safety issue. If you have questions, do not hesitate to contact me directly, or my Chief of Staff, James Langenderfer, at 202.225.3026 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Member of Congress