Trouble on the Tracks: Florida Sees Increase in Train Fatalities

While they might seem like a thing of the past, trains have always played a big role in Florida. From the Florida East Coast Railway, built in 1885 by Florida tycoon Henry Flagler (and famously partially destroyed by a massive hurricane in 1935) to the recent push for a high speed rail, trains have provided thousands of Floridians with an affordable, fast, and often nostalgic mode of transportation.

Florida is home to 1,895 miles of Class I track, mainly used for freight trains, although private companies, like Amtrak and Brightline, also use the rails to ferry passengers across the state. By using these rails, Floridians have contributed to the 50% increase in train travel in the United States, and shown that train travel isn’t dead, even in non-metropolitan areas.

But according to recent statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration, Florida is also a dangerous place when it comes to railroad travel.

Fatalities on Florida Railroads

According to a report from this month, there were 20 train fatalities on the Florida East Coast (FEC) Railway alone since 2016, with the past 12 months emerging as the most dangerous period in over a decade. Of the 16 most recent deaths, 13 involved freight trains, while the others concerned passenger trains, particularly Brightline. Compared to similar railroads, like the Iowa Interstate Railway, which only saw one fatality in 2016, FEC emerges as one of the most dangerous tracks in the United States.

Recent Tragedies

Oftentimes, though, the problem isn’t the trains or the railways. Instead, it’s pedestrians or drivers. Of the recent accidents involving the FEC lines, all were caused by drivers coming into the path of the train. In Boynton Beach, a woman was killed after apparently trying to beat a train across the tracks. A few days earlier, a driver was killed in Delray Beach after driving onto the tracks. While the circumstances of these accidents are unclear, collisions such as these often happen because drivers are distracted, intoxicated, or otherwise impaired, leaving them unable to make a quick decision or gauge the distance of an oncoming train. Other times, drivers simply think they can make it across the tracks before the train does, often underestimating how quickly trains move.

In Florida, FEC isn’t the only railway that has seen tragedies involving pedestrians and drivers. Earlier this month, an 11-year-old student in Polk County was killed by an Amtrak train while crossing the tracks, unable to hear the approaching train because she was wearing headphones. In 2016, a two-year-old was killed while walking with a babysitter along freight tracks in Zephyrhills.

As evidenced by the low fatality rates on other railways around the United States, trains do not have to be a danger to pedestrians and drivers. To keep the roads and railways safe, drivers and pedestrians can follow some easy safety tips.

Before the Tracks

Drivers should look out for signs that signal an upcoming railroad. The most common of these signs is the crossbuck sign. It forms an x shape that alerts drivers to the railroad tracks. Near the tracks, there will also be flashing lights and a gate. When these lights are flashing red and the gates are lowered, a train is approaching. When the light is red and the gates are down, come to a full stop before the gates. Wait until the train passes. Only move forward once the lights are green and the gate goes up.

Certain vehicles are required to stop at all train tracks, even if a train is nowhere in sight. These include:

  • School buses
  • Any bus carrying passengers
  • Any vehicle carrying an explosive substance
  • Tractors, steam rollers, or any other vehicle that has an operation speed of 10 MPH or less

Never try to go around the gates to cross in front of a train! Trains move a lot faster than you think, and can appear suddenly and quietly. A train also takes up to a mile to stop. It can’t simply slam on the brakes to avoid hitting something.

On the Tracks

In the scary event that your car stalls on the railroad tracks, get out of the vehicle immediately. Get out even if there are no warning lights that signal the approach of a train. If a train approaches, get away from the tracks and run in the direction of the oncoming train. When the train strikes your vehicle, there will be glass and other debris. Running in the direction of the train decreases your chances of getting hit by your own vehicle.

Trains Tips for Pedestrians

As a pedestrian, follow similar rules. Do not attempt to go around gates or red lights, and never walk on a railroad track. Even if you are near, but not on, the train tracks, use caution. Don’t wear headphones, because you will need to hear if a train is approaching. You should also remember that train tracks are technically private property, and walking on them is considered trespassing.

Although they might not be as common as they used to be, trains are still very much alive in Florida, and pedestrians and drivers should not forget that.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.


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