Tri-Rail, other agencies get U.S. funds to help curb rail line trespassing, suicides

Tri-Rail, other agencies get U.S. funds to help curb rail line trespassing, suicides

More than $2 million from the Federal Railroad Administration is being distributed among 13 states, including Florida, to regions where deaths by train are on the rise due to trespassing and suicides, the agency announced.
June 17, 2022

By David Lyons, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Fresh federal dollars are headed to South Florida to help railroads, cities and local police agencies cope with rising instances of trespassing and suicides along the region’s rail lines.

More than $2 million from the Federal Railroad Administration is being distributed among 13 states, including Florida, to regions where deaths by train are on the rise due to trespassing and suicides, the agency announced this week.

“No mission is more important than saving lives, and FRA is fully committed to supporting states and communities in the collective effort to prevent avoidable tragedies,” said FRA administrator Amit Bose in a statement. “Through these grants, we will deter railroad trespassing and suicide through coordinated responses from a broad range of local organizations specializing in law enforcement, education, and mental health.”

There are approximately 400 trespass fatalities around the country annually, “almost all of which are preventable,” the agency said. From 2016 to 2021, an average of more than 236 people per year died by suicide within the U.S. rail system, in addition to an average of 27 people injured in failed suicide attempts each year.

Multiple causes

In South Florida, rail deaths have plagued operators, including Brightline, Tri-Rail, the Florida East Coast Railway and Amtrak, the national passenger rail service. While trespassing and suicide incidents constitute some of the causes, rail crossing violations by motorists who try to beat trains across the tracks are another major contributor to fatalities, rail industry and law enforcement officials say.

The FEC, the Florida Department of Transportation and Brightline, the passenger rail line that serves the downtowns of Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami, have jointly applied to the FRA for $25 million to help cut down on vehicle collisions and trespasser strikes. The project would install improvements at 328 road crossings as well as devices to protect pedestrians.

But the FRA grants announced this week are focused on abating episodes of pedestrian trespassing and suicides.

A summary of the programs to be funded in South Florida includes the following agencies as well as the City of Hollywood:

Tri-Rail

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates the Tri-Rail commuter service along the CSX rail line in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, is receiving $56,500 to address railroad-related suicides and trespassing along the corridor that runs west of I-95.

The money will be used for public education and outreach for suicide prevention with the help of mental health professionals and local law enforcement agencies.

The rail authority will partner with 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast (211), a private nonprofit agency that was started in 1971 in Palm Beach County as a drug hotline and later expanded into crisis counseling and suicide prevention.

“The training concepts to be used during an encounter will be to identify potential suicidal victims and increase SFRTA staff and local law enforcement’s psychological knowledge and confidence in preventing suicides,” the FRA said in its statement.

The railroads operating within the proposed project area are Amtrak intercity passenger trains, CSX freight trains and Tri-Rail commuter trains.

Tri-Rail spokesman Victor Garcia said the suicide prevention program “will be implemented by the agency during this upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1, 2022.”

He said $120,000 grants destined for the Broward Sheriff’s Office and City of Hollywood “will ultimately help our cause since our tracks are in their jurisdiction. We will be glad to partner with them in support of their efforts.”

Broward Sheriff’s Office

The countywide police agency is receiving a railroad trespassing enforcement grant of $120,000 to address traffic enforcement, pedestrian trespassing, and the proliferation of homeless camps near rail lines in Broward.

The objective is to conduct enforcement at so-called hot spots along the railroad tracks. The agency will concentrate on addressing homeless encampments erected in and around tracks regulated by the FRA.

The BSO’s homeless outreach team will seek to relocate individuals to homeless shelters or “appropriate behavioral health and social services.”

“The project will have a significant positive impact on the local community and the railway accommodating Brightline, Tri-Rail commuter rail, Amtrak intercity passenger rail and FEC,” the FRA said.

BSO spokesman Carey Codd said the agency “has not yet received formal notification of the grant; however, if it is awarded, the funding would be used for manpower hours to perform law enforcement operations relating to railway safety.”

Earlier this month, the BSO and several other police agencies joined Brightline in a safety crackdown to stop motorists and pedestrians from committing rail crossing violations. The initiative, dubbed Operation Crossing Guard, is scheduled to end Friday.

City of Hollywood

The Hollywood Police Department’s “Operation Fast Track,” is receiving $120,000 for a 12-month enforcement and educational campaign “to maintain a visible law enforcement presence along six miles of railroad mainline track to reduce railroad trespassing in Hollywood.”

The project is supported by data on trespassing incidents along the rail lines.

If homeless camps are located by authorities, police will notify the department’s neighborhood services unit, which would work with the city’s pubic works agency to remove the encampment.

The railroads operating in the project area include Florida East Coast Railway, Tri-Rail, Brightline and Amtrak.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

The office will receive $120,000 to reduce railroad trespassing in the City of Lake Worth, through enforcement and community awareness.

The department will use data from previous instances of trespassing and deploy officers during “peak” days and hours identified by information obtained through cameras located in and around the railways, and from data obtained via drone surveillance.

“Community awareness will also be provided by enforcement signage in English and Spanish near the railroad trespassing hot spot locations,” the FRA said.

“The project will have a significant positive impact on the local community and the railway accommodating Tri-Rail commuter rail, Amtrak intercity passenger rail, and CSX freight trains.”

Elsewhere in Florida, similar programs will be implemented in the cities of Tampa and Jacksonville.

©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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