St. Lucie County, FL is Taking a Different Approach to All Aboard Florida/Brightline…”if it Does Come to Our Area”.

St. Lucie County Logo

As you have no doubt read, Indian River County, Martin County and the advocacy group CARE-Florida recently filed a new lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration.

According to the Palm Beach Post, the lawsuit was filed by Martin and Indian River Counties, along with Citizens against Rail Expansion in Florida, against the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration for allegedly giving $1.15 billion in private activity bonds to the All Aboard Florida/Brightline (AAF/B) project before properly considering public safety, environmental impact or traffic problems the project may have.

While Indian River County (IRC) Attorney Dylan Reingold recently wrote that “I do not believe that Phase II of the All Aboard Florida project will become a reality”, St. Lucie County (SLC) is/has taking/taken a different approach.

According to Erick Gill, Director of the SLC Communications Division, SLC has been working with Federal Railroad Administration and AAF/B officials since 2014 “to mitigate the impact to the County” should the high speed train project become a reality.

Speaking before the SLC Commissioners on October 3, 2017 Don West, Director of the St. Lucie County Public Works Department, reported on steps the Department has taken in the last three years with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the AAF/B safety team to “mitigate the impact.”

FRA is the government agency responsibility for train safety.

Don West

Free Image of Don West

At the outset County Commissioner Chris Dzadovski commended Mr. West for “working tirelessly to move forward with all design changes that improve safety if AAF/B does come to our area.”  He also indicated that when AAF/B originally submitted their plan it was “shoved down our throats with information that was cut and paste”.

SLC has 22 rail crossings from the south to the north end of the county that intersect with AAF/B trains traveling up to 110 miles per hour.

“We have a whole different set of design criteria for the project than their Miami to West Palm route and need a higher design standard, ” said Mr. West. “Trains that run at a totally different speeds.”

Eight miles of the track run through the Savannas Preserve State Park in Pt. Saint Lucie, raise serious environmental safety concerns.

Mr. West presented visuals of design and safety strategies from both the the FRA and AAF/B.

The overall FRA strategy is to develop “sealed corridors” that will improve safety at all highway-rail grade crossings in the stretches where the trains can reach 110 miles per hour.

This image splits St. Lucie County into three sections and denotes data such as roads, jurisdictions and estimated speed for the trains.

October 3, 2017 AAF Safety Improvements Presentation by Public Works Dir...-2

FRA is recommending four “quadrant gates,” shown below, that block all lanes of travel, and vehicle presence detection systems (VPD) at all Quad Gate crossings to prevent trapped vehicles, as well as Remote Health Monitoring (RHM) systems at all high speed crossings to detect signal gate malfunctions.

RMH is another technical device that provides an automatic alert should there be a malfunction with one of the signal gates.

With four gates the Quad Gate crossings prevent cars from driving around the gate and potentially getting stuck between the gates.

AAF Quad Gates

Below, are proposed sidewalk gates, in red.  The red horizontal line near the bottom are the new railroad tracks for the high speed train.

With the new AAF/B tracks, the new railroad tracks have shortened the distance between the tracks and Old Dixie Highway such that only car can wait between the new tracks and Old Dixie.  It is so short that a bus would stick out on to Old Dixie.

To mitigate this risk, FAA recommendations call for traffic lights protecting cars wanting to cross the tracks.

AAF Sidewalkgates

Then there is HazMat training.

On Wednesday, April 12, 2017 local, state and federal agencies participated in mock terrorism and mass casualty events dealing with handling simulated chemical releases, fires and decontamination efforts.

The events were held in Tradition Irrigation Plant in the Tradition area of Port St. Lucie, Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce and Witham Field in Stuart.  A Black Hawk helicopter came from the Florida National Guard in Tampa.

The Tradition Irrigation Plant west of Interstate 95, included a box truck with chemicals that explode.

It was simulated with dry ice, which was a safe low lying cloud.

A decontamination effort occurred while the cloud will floated over a crowd watching a K-9 demonstration.

The third site is at Witham Field, where a fire will occur, as well as decontamination efforts.

Drones and a dirigible recorded footage of the three events.

If there were a train derailment first responders have to avoid breathing vapors, fumes or smoke even if there are no hazardous materials believed too be involved, because some hazardous materials are odorless.

In summary, AAF/B has agreed to the installation of Vehicle Presence Detection (VPD) systems at all 13 county crossings.

Remote Health Monitoring (RHM) will be provided at all 13 county crossings.

Trackside networks, such as these, control and manage train networks with a complex infrastructure of railway signals, track circuits, and switches. Railway and station systems rely heavily on this infrastructure during their daily operations.

Based upon the most recent AAF/B design plans, Triad Railroad Consulting estimated the additional safety improvements included after all of our combined efforts represent a range of value = $ 2,760,000 – $ 3,962,000.

In concluding his remarks Mr. West said: “we’re talking about who pays for what…whether we split it.  Final revised plans will result in a safer and better project for the residents of St. Lucie County”.

St. Lucie County Hazardous Materials Truck. ~ These trucks can cost up to $ 1 million.

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