Brightline Fatalities: A Letter to FDOT Secretary Chao.

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VIA CERTIFIED MAIL

March 4, 2020

Secretary Elaine Chao, Secretary

United States Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue SE

Washington, DC 20590

 

RE: BRIGHTLINE FATALITIES

Dear Secretary Chao:

While this is in regard to one specific railroad fatality on the Brightline higher speed rail system, it also concerns other Brightline fatalities and the USDOT’s guidelines for investigations.

We recognize that this is the responsibility of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), however your office oversees that Agency and in particular we wanted to call your attention to this important matter.

Perhaps you have seen a January 29, 2020 article by NPR: “Florida’s Brightline Railroad Is Nation’s Deadliest After High Rate of Track Deaths.”

The one specific fatality we reference is VERONICA L MARTINEZ VORANO who died on November 15th 2019 in Aventura after a Brightline train hit her Mercedes SUV.  Her family in Argentina wants to know what happened.

Ives Dairy & W. Dixie Aventura

Ives Dairy & W. Dixie Aventura.  Site of Ms. Voroano’s accident.

The FRA website states that, among others, “… Generally, FRA investigates accidents and incidents meeting the following criteria:

    • Death to three or more persons in a private highway vehicle.”

We reviewed the above criterion with your Atlanta Regional Office and they confirmed that FRA does not investigate the death of one or two people.

Thus, Veronica Vorano’s death then was not investigated by FRA.

I am enclosing a “State of Florida Traffic Crash Report” completed by Miami-Dade police department, which is hardly an investigation.

We have obtained and enclose FRA Fatality/Accident reports summaries of 23 Brightline fatalities available on the FRA website for all of 2019, except December.  While you can see how little evidence there is as to what was in the mind of the victim, all were one person.  This means all of those fatalities were not investigated by the FRA.

There have been over 42 deaths by Brightline in the past two years.  How many of the other 23 deaths were only one or two people. How many total deaths are enough to warrant the attention of the FRA investigators?

Who has the responsibility of investigating these deaths, other than a local official filing an accident report that incorrectly listed the owner of the train.

Does Brightline conduct their own investigations?

I believe there is a possibility there was a signaling issue where the gates closed after Ms. Vorano came upon the tracks and she was trapped.  The gate system may have failed to close soon enough and the higher speed train came through the intersection striking her car before she had time to react.

Was there a malfunction of the traffic signal preemption system used to control vehicle traffic near the crossing to prevent collisions?  If so, who is responsible for maintaining Traffic signal preemption systems or did the crossing design include such a system at all?

Further, federal laws require all trains traveling over 30 miles per hour to have an event recorder. (Also called On-Train Monitoring Recorder (OTMR), On-Train Data Recorder (OTDR), Event Recorder System (ERS), Event Recorder Unit (ERU), or simply Event Recorder (ER).)

Train-Event-Recorder

This device records the operational functions of the train, including the train’s speed, the time of day, distance traveled, horn activation, and the use of the train’s braking system.

Where is the event recorder for the Brightline train that killed Ms. Vorano? Who owns it?

It is my understanding there are stationary event recorders at the crossing equipment.  Was there an event recorder at the crossing where Ms. Vorano was killed?

I would like to have access to the data from these event recorders for examination and have an authority to do so.  It is critical to proving the timing for the events.

It is important to note that on March 20, 2014, in connection with All Aboard Florida (then Brightline; now Virgin USA), Frank A. Frey, Gen. Engineer-HSR for the FederalRailroad Administration recommended in an ON-SITE ENGINEERING FIELD REPORT — Part 1 (also enclosed) that the Aventura crossing where Ms. Verano was killed be closed.

I look forward to a quick response to these issues.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Thomas Hardy

CC:      President Donald Trump, United States of America

Honorable Mitch McConnell, U. S. Senate Majority Leader

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

Mr. Kevin J. Thibault, Secretary, Florida Department of Transportation

Florida Congressman Brian Mast

Florida Senator Marco Rubio

Dylan Reingold, County Attorney, Indian River County, FL

Susan Mehiel, Alliance for Safe Trains

Florida State Senator Debby Mayfield

Veronica1

10 thoughts on “Brightline Fatalities: A Letter to FDOT Secretary Chao.

  1. Pingback: Florida Office of Inspector General Letter Regarding Death of Verónica Martinez Vorano by a Brightline Train. | Vero Communiqué

  2. Hyperbole and speculation are not substitutes for facts.

    Unless there is some eyewitness evidence or trackside/train recorder evidence to demonstrate a malfunctioning crossing system, it is irresponsible to assume such was the case.

    Motor vehicle statutes require that a vehicle should never enter a rail crossing without having a clear opportunity to exit the crossing safely.

    It doesn’t seem plausible that someone could enter a crossing and be trapped as described unless they entered without a clear ability to leave the crossing (e.g., in heavy traffic that required them to stop while waiting for a traffic signal).

    Surely if laws were complied with, it would have been possible to simply accelerate out of the crossing if gates were closing… they do not go down that quickly. If there had been insufficient room to exit the crossing, the driver should never have entered the crossing. Driver error? Certainly a possibility.

    Yet you (and others) appear to jump to the conclusion that “the train” is responsible for this tragedy. Unless you have evidence of what actually happened, your crusade is not well-founded.

    The point is, without evidence, we have nothing but speculation.

    What does the police report state? I was looking for the attached police report (cited in your letter), yet it wasn’t provided. Why not?

    The Google image is so distorted as to be useless.

    It is extremely rare for a crossing fatality to be traceable to anything other than human error by a motorist or pedestrian… or a deliberate suicide (highly unlikely in this case). If you’re going to imply no driver error was involved, then you’d better have more than rank speculation. If you do have such evidence, then share it.

  3. We are requesting an investigation for the evidence in this specific incident. There were two witnesses. Also, why doesn’t the FDOT investigate on or two person fatalities. How many single or two persons’ deaths were not investigated? It is not enough to basically call the deaths “mainly suicides” because “they are attracted to our bright yellow trains.”

    • Not sure what you’re referring to with:

      “It is not enough to basically call the deaths ‘mainly suicides’ because ‘they are attracted to our bright yellow trains.’”??

      To justify an investigation beyond what was conducted by the police, you need evidence that justifies an investigation.

      You say there were two eyewitnesses. What did they report that suggests there was something wrong with the crossing and that it wasn’t driver error? Don’t you think that is important enough to make a key part of this story? I’m sure most readers would like to know what evidence justifies further investigation.

      Do you have solid evidence that this was not driver error? Do you have evidence that motor vehicle code was complied with so that when the victim entered the crossing there was a clear path open to allow a safe exit? Evidently there was not.

      What is in the police report that suggests this was not a case of driver error?

      If you have something, please share it. You’ll get a lot more support if you are acting on more than speculation.

  4. We found these comments posted on La Capital:

    “Fui la primera persona que fue a ayudar a Veronica, desafortunadamente no había nada que hacer, pero creo que hubo un fallo en la parte técnica de las indicaciones del cruce, la cámara de mi automóvil grabó completamente todo lo que sucedió. La barrera cayó unos segundos antes de que pasara el tren.

    “I was the first person that went to help Veronica, unfortunately there was nothing to do but, I think there was a failure in the technical part of the indications of the crossing, the camera of my car completely recorded everything that happened. The barrier came down just a few seconds before the train passed.”

    There is a witness listed on the “traffic report” who should be contacted.

    The traffic report is 10 pages long. Contributing road circumstances: Unknown / Driver distracted by: Unknown

    At a recent news conference, Ben Porritt of Brightline said “”Seventy-five percent of the incidents that we’ve seen are the results of suicide or drugs. It’s an industrywide concern. It just doesn’t affect Brightline. It affects every railroad across the country.”

    Suicides on train tracks are a national problem, but nowhere near the 75% figure cited by Brightline. A U.S. Department of Transportation study shows that suicides account for about 30% of all rail fatalities. Accident reports on the Federal Railroad Administration’s website attribute only a handful of Brightline fatalities to suicide.

    • Thomas,

      In all fairness, what was described by the witness sounds like driver error.

      Normally, lights start flashing and a bell clangs just before the gates come down. Any prudent driver will not enter a crossing when the lights are flashing.

      So how was it possible for the vehicle to enter the crossing, but fail to exit the crossing before the gates descended unless there was traffic stopped in the crossing or just outside the crossing and the vehicle had nowhere to go when the gates began to close. If that were the case, time wasn’t a factor, traffic was.

      That’s why the law prohibits entering a crossing without having a clear continuous path to exiting.

      There is simply too much that points to driver error.

      If there is evidence that the driver was acting lawfully when she entered the crossing (she had a clear safe path to exit), then how is it that she became trapped?

      What is the gate closure time?

      How long between when lights and bell begin warning before the gate begins to descend?

      Is there time for a prudent driver to clear the crossing if the crossing is entered before the warnings begin?

      These are all key facts that need to be supplied.

      Do you have a link to the police report? What did that report conclude?

      Thanks,

      Bob Webster

  5. The Report is in a PDF format if you give me your email address. I’ll also send you the FRA Field Report and the lists of fatalities in 2019. You will see they were all only one person. Thus the FRA has no obligation to investigate them.

    Did you see this:

    After having an opportunity to review your correspondence, we have referred your concerns to the Department’s Freight & Multimodal Operations management for review and action deemed appropriate.

    Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.

    Kim Likens, CIGI, CFE, CPM

    Director of Investigations

    Office of Inspector General

    Florida Department of Transportation

    Also:

    Psychologist Lanny Berman, who studies train suicides, said it’s likely the velocity of Brightline’s trains, their bright color and newness that attracts the suicidal.

  6. Thomas,

    Interesting. Thank you.

    Yes, please send that report, use “bwebster at att.net”

    Thanks,

    Bob

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