Based on the results of a records request state Sen. Debbie Mayfield and state Rep. Erin Grall conducted, Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold declared Tuesday morning that Florida can legally regulate Brightline trains, and that the Department of Transportation knows that.
Reingold cited correspondence Mayfield and Grall dug up that shows the Federal Railroad Administration advising the Florida Department of Transportation that there is no federal pre-emption of state train regulations.
That means if Florida were to pass the high-speed train safety bills that Mayfield has sponsored in the Senate and Grall and MaryLynn Magar have sponsored in the house, the law could be enforceable by the Florida Department of Transportation, Reingold told the Indian River County Board of Commissioners Tuesday morning.
“The emails released Thursday make it clear this issue is not pre-empted and that FRA is simply looking to FDOT to step up to the plate,” Reingold said.
Indian River County is among several Treasure Coast governments opposing plans for Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, to extend a private, higher-speed passenger train rail from South Florida through the Treasure Coast to Orlando.
Mayfield, of Melbourne, Grall, of Vero Beach, and Magar, of Tequesta, have been pushing the “High-Speed Rail Passenger Safety Act” the past two years, to have the Florida Department of Transportation issue tighter safety regulations for passenger-train service and to inspect and enforce them. This year the proposals are in Senate Bill 572 and House Bill 525.
After a series of fatal accidents involving Brightline trains and pedestrians wandering onto the tracks on its first route, from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale, Mayfield sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott last month urging him to have the state department look into safety along the rail.
Brightline lawyers have maintained that states do not have regulatory authority over trains, even intra-state trains like the Brightline, because federal law pre-empts state rail law.
“I’m very worried that such confusion between FRA and the FDOT will only lead to disaster on the Treasure Coast,” Reingold said Tuesday. “FDOT and All Aboard Florida can no longer stand behind their pre-emption argument.”