Indian River Co. settles lawsuit with Brightline: what's next?

Indian River Co. settles lawsuit with Brightline: what's next?

Indian River County's court battles with Brightline came to a close Tuesday after a settlement agreement was approved by county commissioners.

The county and high-speed train company have been locked in a longstanding battle for almost seven years concerning costs to the county and municipalities to maintain the crossings.

Indian River County and others communities on the Treasure Coast have fought the system, raising concerns about issues such as safety.

As part of an agreement, Brightline would pay $31.6 million to make safety upgrades to more than 30 crossings.

Indian River County leaders and officials with Brightline came together Wednesday to formally announce the end of the county's legal actions against the company.

"It's unfortunate we had to take such a long ride on the rail to get here," Indian River County Commission Chairman Joe Flescher said.

"For us, safety is key. [It will] always will be [the] No. 1 priority. And in the end, you’re going to have a corridor with 31 crossings that will be much safer," said Ben Porritt of Brightline.

"I can assure you this wasn't something the state said, 'We're doing this, and this is all we're doing.' We had everyone in that room," said State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne.

A federal appeals court in December 2019 rejected Indian River County's arguments in a legal battle about tax-exempt bonds for the Brightline rail system.

The county decided in January 2020 not to pursue further legal action against the train company, however, commissioners later approved the use of $200,000 in private donations to continue a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Indian River County used more than $4 million in legal fees in its fight against Brightline.

The rail line currently links Miami to West Palm Beach, but service has been temporarily suspended since March 2020 due to the pandemic.

The passenger-rail system will ultimately allow travel from downtown Miami to Orlando International Airport by the end of 2022 or early 2023, according to Brightline.

Trish Tomsic (left) and Muriel Holdsworth share their concerns about Brightline coming to Indian River County.
Trish Tomsic (left) and Muriel Holdsworth share their concerns about Brightline coming to Indian River County.

That's when residents like Chris Baker may see the new trains. He bought his house right on the St. Sebastian River last year and knew the train was coming.

"I think it'll be good for public transportation. It'll be interesting to see the speed of it," Baker said.

Trish Tomsic and Muriel Holdsworth can only wonder what's next for their Roseland neighborhood as Brightline trains are on the horizon, adding to the existing freight train traffic.

"There's a lot of little streets, a lot of communities with houses right on the rails, and they're flying by," Tomsic said.

Martin County ended its lawsuit against Brightline in 2018 with a promise that a Treasure Coast station would be built. However, there is still no indication from Brightline when and where that would be.

The first railroad crossing work in Indian River County will begin around September.

Trains are expected to travel at a speed of 110 mph.

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