After Brightline deaths, Mike Caruso pushes suicide prevention initiative

State Rep. Mike Caruso is asking for $500,000 to increase public awareness for the 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast community helpline after a spate of suicides on the Brightline train tracks.

“Suicide by rail is a nationwide issue that is not just seen in Florida,” Caruso said Wednesday in a statement to promote those services.

“I am pleased to support the 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast Helpline organization in a new effort to reduce suicides on our railways through a program of awareness, education and intervention.”

Caruso filed an appropriations bill (HB 4195) requesting those funds in late November. The measure has now been assigned to the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee.

The bill carves out $275,000 for placement of those promotional ads. Another $120,000 will go toward consultants to manage the awareness campaign. The remaining money will be used for spokesperson fees and to help pay additional 211 staff to handle any increase in calls for help.

A recent report by the Associated Press showed the rail line had the worst death rate per train mile traveled of any railroad in the United States.

“The first death involving a Brightline train, which officially launched in January 2018, happened in July 2017 during test runs,” the outlet reported.

“Since then, 40 more have been killed — a rate of more than one a month and about one for every 29,000 miles (47,000 kilometers) the trains have traveled.”

Patrick Goddard, who serves as the President of Brightline, said that at least 75% of those deaths have been suicides. Along with Caruso’s push for funding legislation, Brightline also announced it would contribute $150,000 to the 211 hotline.

“Suicide by rail is an industry wide issue and the nation-wide statistics are startling,” Goddard said.

“We believe a partnership with 211 is a critical next step in our efforts to help those who are vulnerable to mental health or who may be seeking assistance.”

Sharon L’Herrou, President and CEO of 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast Helpline, also detailed the group’s efforts to increase “public service announcements, digital advertising, geo-fencing, signage along the corridor and awareness for how those affected can receive help.”

“Our unified effort and compassion will make our community a safer and healthier place,” L’Herrou said.