Since 2014, the team behind All Aboard Florida (AAF) and Brightline has known that expanding rail in the Space Coast and the Treasure Coast would not be an easy sell. Over the past year, All Aboard Florida officials have expressed optimism after winning court battles and obtaining permits to move forward.
But that mood might be changing. State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, an opponent of the rail project, has introduced “The Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act.”
Mayfield’s proposal would make high-speed rail companies pay for the installation of safety measures, including fencing along certain areas of the track that could be dangerous for pedestrians. Mayfield’s bill also makes train companies develop safety measures focused on train engineers and gate malfunctions. The bill is gaining traction in Tallahassee as it cleared the Senate Transportation Committee unanimously.
Weighing in on the safety issue, Citizens Against Rail Expansion (CARE) Chairman Brent Hanlon says Mayfield’s bill will ensure people will be safer at high speed rail crossings across the state.
“This legislation will address public safety concerns in any community across the state,” Hanlon insisted.
But some question the merit of this legislation.
“Is this bill really about safety or is it about politics?” Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish asked. Parrish, who supports AAF, added, “enough is enough.”
“Stop playing politics with this train,” Parrish told Sunshine State News. “The people in my city and the Brevard County Commission have already decided on this issue. They want it and the many jobs that will come with it.”
For its part, AAF also believes this legislation is politically motivated, insisting Mayfield’s bill wants to impose “new” state regulations on the rail project in addition to current “existing” federal regulations.
“While the bill's sponsors would have you believe this is merely a safety measure, its intent is clear,” AAF noted in an email to SSN. “On behalf of rail opponents who have been unsuccessful in federal and state courts, it is a thinly-veiled attempt to stop a private passenger rail project from using its private property.”
Mayfield’s office responded, insisting that the proposal “sets up the framework for high-speed rail safety in Florida” and is not targeting a certain company.
But Rusty Roberts, vice president of government affairs for All Aboard Florida, disagrees.
“The senator from Indian River and Brevard counties insisted that her bill was about statewide regulation of high speed rail, not about one company,” Roberts said. “But in explaining her bill, she repeatedly referenced All Aboard Florida as the subject of her regulatory scheme, then catching herself to include any other high speed rail system. Of course, no other high speed rail systems currently operate or are contemplated in Florida.”
Reach Ed Dean, senior editor at Sunshine State News, at EdDean29@yahoo.com.