The piercing blasts from Florida East Coast Railway’s new locomotive horns aren’t likely to be quieted anytime soon as the noise is expensive to mitigate and remains within federal guidelines, according to an update posted online.
Residents who live along FEC’s tracks from the Treasure Coast through South Florida began complaining about an increase in horn noise following the December acquisition of 24 new GE engines by the private rail company.
While the locomotives are more fuel efficient, FECR officials acknowledge in the update that the new horns may sound differently because they have five chimes instead of the three that were on most of the older locomotives. The horns are also in a different location on the engines and have a different pitch and frequency.
Specifics on the decibel level and horn placement are not given in the update. Federal rules require train horns to be between 96 and 110 decibels.
“FECR investigated what modifications could be made to the horns to soften the sound and still meet the FRA requirement for decibel level,” the company says on its website. “The cost of parts, modification, rerouting of air lines and recertification of the horns is significant with no guarantee the modification would mitigate the noise.”
The Federal Railroad Administration received enough complaints about the increase in noise that it is doing its own tests today at FECR’s New Smyrna locomotive facility.
Affirmation that the horns have a different sound is little consolation to people who say the noise they previously slept through now wakes them at night.
James Lammers, who lives less than a block west of the tracks in West Palm Beach, said he can’t refute FECR’s claim that horn modifications do little to dampen the noise, but engineers can be asked to limit the horn blowing to what is federally required.
Train conductors generally must sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings. The horns are blown in a pattern of two long blasts, one short blast and one long blast.
“Sound mitigation can be achieved, for example, if the excessive number and duration of train horn sounds is eliminated,” Lammers said. “Our first-hand experience is that presently, the practice is not consistent among the train engineers.”
But with 114 crossings countywide, it could be that people hear horns blowing at multiple crossings as they make their way through cities, noted Rick Rose, who owns a bed and breakfast in historic Grandview Heights.
Regardless of where the horns are honking, Rose said he believes they are more disruptive.
“In general, I do think the new trains are louder than the older ones and the louder trains are very disturbing to residents here in Grandview Heights and other neighborhoods near to the tracks,” Rose said.
Florida East Coast Railway suggests on its website that communities lobby for quiet zones, which have been guaranteed from Hallandale Beach in Broward County to West Palm Beach with the addition of the All Aboard Florida passenger rail project.
The project will run 32 express trains per day on the FEC tracks between Miami and West Palm Beach beginning in 2016. All Aboard Florida plans to expand to Orlando in 2017. If quiet zones are established, freight train horns as well as those of passenger trains will be silenced.
Palm Beach County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which determines how federal and state transportation money is spent to improve transit, has set aside $6.6 million to help pay for quiet zones on the FEC tracks.
“Considering that those quiet zones could take another two more years, I’m hoping that we can work out a middle road solution in the meantime,” said Rose, who in 2006 worked to get some quiet zones on the CSX tracks, which carry Tri-Rail commuter trains.
The Palm Beach Post has closely followed the $2.6 billion project – and its potential effect on local communities – since its inception. Read The Post’s archive of All-Aboard stories: www.mypalmbeachpost.com/allaboardflorida