WATCH: Car cuts around crossing gate, gets hit by Brightline train in Lake Worth Beach. It’s the fourth accident in a week with the high-speed train

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HALLANDALE BEACH — Another motorist tried to beat a Brightline train on Wednesday, leaving him with incapacitating injuries and a decimated car. The early-morning crash in Lake Worth Beach was the fourth accident in a week involving the rail line.

At 6:19 a.m. Wednesday, the driver was in his 1999 Honda Civic on Railroad Avenue, which runs parallel to the railroad tracks and neighboring Dixie Highway. Another motorist was stopped in front of him at the lowered railroad crossing arm at the intersection of Washington and Railroad avenues.

A freight train traveling north on the west tracks had just cleared the intersection, but the crossing gates had remained in the down position as the southbound Brightline train approached on the east tracks.

Instead of waiting, the driver, Luis Manuel Paez, 55, moved around the other waiting motorist and turned onto the tracks in the oncoming traffic lane, which does not have a crossing arm at that side of the intersection, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

The impact was immediate and fierce, splitting the Honda Civic in two.

Paez was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach for treatment of “incapacitating injuries,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Robert Neal, who lives in the area, said Paez recently moved to that area. A report from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office listed him with a Miami address, and Paez’s family could not be reached for comment.

Brightline officials released the train’s dashcam video Wednesday morning. On it, the train conductor sounds his horn as Paez’s car is crossing over the double tracks. The force pushed the Honda about a block south.

“That’s insane,” said Robert Reyes, who later Wednesday was near the area where Honda came to a final rest. “People have just got to have patience. Society is just so crazy. It’s rush, rush, rush.”

A car is loaded onto a tow truck after the fourth accident in a week involving a Brightline train. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office says the driver went around the crossing gate and tried to beat the train at an intersection near the 500 block of Washington Avenue in Lake Worth Beach.

A car is loaded onto a tow truck after the fourth accident in a week involving a Brightline train. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office says the driver went around the crossing gate and tried to beat the train at an intersection near the 500 block of Washington Avenue in Lake Worth Beach. (Eileen Kelley/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

The Lake Worth Beach accident on Wednesday, and another that resulted in a death late Tuesday, are the latest in a spate of collisions plaguing the higher-speed passenger trains since the railroad recently resumed operations.

Tuesday night’s death was the ninth involving Florida’s privately owned passenger railroad since it resumed operations in November after an 18-month shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the 57th since Brightline began test runs in 2017, giving it the worst per-mile fatality rate in the nation, according to an ongoing Associated Press analysis that began in 2019.

The trains travel up to 79 mph (127 kph) through densely populated urban and suburban areas along about 70 miles (112 kilometers) of track between Miami and West Palm Beach that it shares with the Florida East Coast freight line. At that speed, the trains need about one-quarter of a mile to come to a stop.

The AP analysis shows that Brightline averages about one death for every 35,000 miles (56,000 kilometers) its trains travel, three times worse than the next mid-size or major railroad. According to police reports examined by the AP, investigators determined most of those killed have been suicides, drivers maneuvering around crossing barriers to try to beat the trains, or pedestrians who were intoxicated or mentally ill.

Among railroads that have logged at least 1 million miles over the past five years, central Florida’s SunRail has the second-worst death rate, averaging one for every 108,000 train miles (174,000 train kilometers). More than 800 people die nationally each year from train strikes, according to Federal Railroad Administration records.

A Brightline statement said the company released video of Wednesday’s Lake Worth Beach accident as “an example of the dangers of disobeying rail crossings (and) to educate motorists and pedestrians in an effort to prevent future trespassing.”

The railroad shared safety tips from Operation Lifesaver, a national nonprofit focused on reducing grade crossing incidents and promoting rail safety:

  • The train you see is closer and faster-moving than you think.
  • Trains cannot stop quickly.
  • Never drive around lowered gates — it’s illegal and deadly.
  • Do not get trapped on the tracks; proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping.
  • If your vehicle stalls on the tracks, get out and get away from the tracks, even if you do not see a train. Locate the Emergency Notification System sign and call the number provided, telling them about the stalled vehicle.
  • At a multiple track crossing, waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching from either direction.
  • When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. It isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.
  • Always expect a train.

Three other accidents involving Brightline trains occurred over the past week.

A pedestrian died Tuesday evening after attempting to cross the railroad tracks on South Dixie Highway in Hallandale Beach, police said.

Shortly after 7:30 p.m., the pedestrian attempted to cross the tracks in the 300 block of South Dixie Highway and was struck and killed by a Brightline train, said Capt. Megan Jones, a spokesperson for Hallandale Beach Police.

Tuesday night’s incident was the second of the day in South Florida. Earlier Tuesday, a woman and baby left their car when it became stuck on the Brightline tracks in Delray Beach.

And on Sunday afternoon, a West Palm Beach resident died after a Brightline train hit his car in Lake Worth Beach. Deputies identified the man as Hidegalde Perez, 48.

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The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said Perez drove around the safety arms on the track and into the train’s path.

Also, in late January, a Brightline train struck and killed a man who attempted to cross the tracks in Hollywood in the area of Harrison Street and South 21st Avenue.

In response to the string of accidents over the years, Brightline has installed infrared detectors to warn engineers if anyone is lurking near the tracks so they can slow down or stop. The company also has added more fencing and landscaping to make track access more difficult, and is installing red-light cameras at crossings to enable police to ticket drivers who go around guardrails. It is testing drones to monitor the tracks.

Brightline is nearing completion of an extension that will connect West Palm Beach and Orlando. It has plans to eventually connect Orlando with Tampa. It is also building a line that will connect Southern California with Las Vegas.

Staff writers Angie DiMichele and Kathy Laskowski contributed to this report, which was supplemented by information from the Associated Press.

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