Miami Police Barely Stop Freight Train From Hitting SUV on Upper Eastside

Tim Elfrink
Three City of Miami Police officers raced down the train tracks, desperately waving their arms at the freight train barreling past the NE 54th Street intersection. A few hundred feet down the tracks, a dark-green SUV was stuck on the rails. If the train hit the car at full speed, it could easily derail the miles of shipping containers.

With a squeal, the huge train ground to a halt — barely 20 feet from the stranded vehicle.

The dramatic scene played out on Miami's Upper Eastside just before 11 a.m. on the tracks that run alongside NE Fourth Court just south of 54th Street. An elderly driver apparently lost control of the truck in the Publix parking lot, barreled across the street, and landed in the middle of the tracks.

Disaster was averted in this case, but the near miss raises questions about track safety as Brightline, a new high-speed passenger service, prepares to use the same tracks on its route from Miami to Fort Lauderdale. The train line has already been bedeviled by concerns after three people were hit along the route from Broward to West Palm Beach in the days after service began earlier this month.

A Brightline spokesperson declined to comment for this story or discuss whether the company planned to install fencing or other safety features along street-level tracks such as this section. The train company says it has ramped up safety education campaigns and improved crossing safety along its routes.

Tuesday's near-miss began around 10:30 a.m., when an elderly man, who appeared to be wearing heavy prescription lenses, accelerated through the Publix parking lot. Omar Lopez had just parked when he saw the SUV race at high speed through the lot.
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Police interview the SUV's driver.
Tim Elfrink
"It flew right by me, just a couple feet away," Lopez said, adding that the driver clipped the bumper of one parked car before zooming across NE Fourth Court. "I couldn't believe he didn't hit any cross traffic. There's traffic through that street all day long."

The SUV's wheels wedged between the rails, stopping the truck from hittin a train parked on the westernmost tracks. The driver, who appeared to have only minor injuries, walked away from the accident. He sat in a chair next to the Publix lot while police and firefighters talked to him about what happened.

Police on the scene declined to provide details about the accident or the driver's name.

Brightline is already facing a push in Tallahassee for tighter safety regulations after two deaths and one injury along its tracks in just eight days of service on the new route connecting downtown Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. A video earlier this week also showed a driver skirting safety rails and barely avoiding getting hit by a train in Deerfield Beach.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink

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