TREASURE COAST GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND RESIDENTS CONCERNS GROW AS VIRGIN TRAINS DISMISSES SAFETY CONCERNS WITH HD KING PROPERTY PROPOSAL.
Virgin Trains USA (formerly known as Brightline) received $1.75 billion dollars from a US Government Program known as Private Activity Tax-Free Bonds (PAB’s) in April. The money was supposed to be used to improve Virgin Trains safety, upgrade the tracks to handle higher speed rail traffic, and extend the tracks from Cocoa Beach to Orlando. Virgin Trains is ranked last amongst all commuter rail lines in the US for safety. Instead of investing the money to improve safety measures to protect residents, Brightline has submitted a proposal to Fort Pierce to develop the HD King riverfront site to build a hotel, shops, apartments and condominiums. As a commuter rail company, subsidized by local, state and federal governments, improving their safety record should be their top priority. It is not.
On Monday, Virgin Trains USA was declared one of two finalists to develop the HD King property in Fort Pierce. Treasure Coast residents and elected government officials are growing more and more concerned about Virgin Trains continued dismissal of safety concerns relating to the 100+ mph train transit through the Treasure Coast and instead, submitting proposals for non-essential real estate development.
Eileen Vargas, prospective candidate for the District 84 State Representative seat, expressed her frustration about Virgin Trains misappropriation of funds into the HD King project versus assuring that her constituents are safe. Vargas said, “life safety is the most concerning issue relating to Virgin Trains”. Virgin Trains has made no effort to give District 84 residents any level of assurance that they care about our citizens. When it comes to Virgin Trains, corporate citizenship is dead.
Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson said, “What I like is if we had a station, then the train would have to slow down when going through our city”, echoing Vargas sentiment. A train traveling at 100+ mph is way too dangerous for public welfare without a sealed corridor to keep cars and trespassers away from the train. However, there is no evidence of genuine effort on Virgin’s part to improve public safety, instead, they invest in low to no cost non-essential real estate, holding cities like Fort Pierce and Stuart hostage and putting them at odds.
Governor Ron Desantis, Rep. Brian Mast and Rep. Bill Posey urged the federal government officials to suspend the authorization Brightline’s PAB’s unsuccessfully. Improving water quality is the top priority for the three officials and selling PAB’s for Brightline directly competes with funding for their initiatives. Mast and Posey expressed their frustrations in congressional hearings as Brightline brass mocked them, and they are mocking our community. Brightline is negligent in not outlining a comprehensive plan to improve safety and instead, choosing to make their first big investment in non-essential real estate in Ft. Pierce. The company is taking advantage of the US Government, our local officials, and our residents.
In a recent safety study of the Federal Rail Authority (FRA) data Virgin Trains was 29 times more likely to hurt or kill a resident than New Jersey Transit, 44 times more likely than the Long Island Railroad, 49 times more likely than SEPTA and 376 times more likely than Metro North. The study analyzed the likelihood of the commuter trains having a collision with an automobile or pedestrian versus the total number of miles that the given train traveled in 2018. This study is a true measure of safety and Brightline’s safety record is abysmal, ranking last amongst all commuter trains in the US.
Instead of proactively addressing safety concerns the President of Brightline Trains, Patrick Goddard, chastised Treasure Coast Residents during Congressional Hearings in Washington DC calling them “narrow minded” and “obstructionists”. Congress Mark Meadows (R-NC) reprimanded Goddard for his condescending tone and dismissive comments. Antagonistically, the former hotel manager turned President of Brightline Trains, Goddard dismissed safety concerns by comparing rail to automotive travel, stating that traveling by train is 90% safer based on total deaths, not considering usage. When using the same analysis used to compare commuter trains above, Brightline is actually 1900+ times more likely to have a collision than an automobile!
Goddard then went on to say that every person who has died as a result of a collision with Brightline has “either chosen to end their life or been under the influence of drugs”. This attempt at obfuscation dismisses Brightline’s atrocious performance versus the other major commuter trains that all deal with the same risk of suicide and drug influence. Brightline still ranks last, which again speaks to the lack of safety controls in place like impenetrable barriers, enclosed tracks, and Virgin Trains negligence.
In their negligence, Virgin Trains company executives like Patrick Goddard neither have the education or management expertise to run a commuter rail line nor do they have the respect for the residents of our communities to listen to their concerns. The executive management team is laden with former hotel managers and real estate developers, not seasoned train executives concerned with safety and the betterment of the community. Harry Bruce, Former CEO & President of Illinois Central Railroad, stated that the management team has no idea how to run a railroad and that their true intention is to simply build real estate and high-rise office buildings, apartments, and hotels along the line putting more lives at risk. The HD King property bid exemplifies this fact.
With priorities amiss, Virgin Trains will continue to put our residents at risk while lining their pockets with strong-armed real estate grabs from unsuspecting cities and tax payers. They will borrow money until the company collapses under the debt load and most sadly, our residents’ lives will continue to be at great risk. It will only be a matter of time before we will lose a car full of teenagers at the hand of Virgin Trains and if we do nothing to stop this proverbial “train”, we will all have blood on our hands.
We encourage you to contact your local city councilperson, county commissioners, state representatives, congressmen, senators and Governor Desantis. Send an email, write letters, call their offices. Get involved. Virgin Trains has yet to show the moral backbone and corporate social responsibility to make the right decisions about their abysmal safety record. Instead of taking action to protect residents, they make excuses. Since Brightline has shown no interest in truly doing what is right to protect residents, our legislators will need to step in. Laws must be passed at a local, county, state and federal level to implement controls to assure that safety is the first priority, not profit from real estate development.
We encourage you to comment, like and share this post. Unlike Virgin Trains perspective, if you disagree with this article, tell us why in your comment. If you agree, tell us your concerns. Unlike Virgin Trains, we want to know.
For more information about the HD King Property Article, logon to: https://www.tcpalm.com/…/fort-pierce-creates-7-…/1092804001/
For more information on how to make the trains safe, we encourage you to visit www.flsafetrains.com and sign up for their newsletter or simply join the Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/280335699517007/
If you need help contacting your government officials, please email Governor DeSantis at Ron.DeSantis@eog.state.fl.us or call his office at 850-717-9337.
A woman was struck and killed by a Virgin Trains USA on Sunday morning, May 12, 2019 in Boynton Beach. This was the 19th death by trains traveling at 79 mph between Palm Beach and Miami.