With the train track “quiet zone” taking effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Mayor Jeri Muoio urged anyone crossing the Florida East Coast Railway lines from here on to be careful and not circumvent safety gates.
Conductors can blow horns if they spot someone near the tracks, or when within passenger stations or rail yards in an emergency, but other than that, the regular, ear-piercing blasts at every crossing between 15th Street and the southern city limits will halt. That goes for lumbering cargo trains as well as the new, high-speed Brightline cars zipping between Miami and West Palm Beach.
Muoio announced the change at a news conference Monday morning and in email messages to more than 30,000 West Palm Beach households and businesses.
The change comes with extra safety provisions to discourage motorists and pedestrians from trying end-runs around the gates. The measures include signs and extended medians or road dividers, a safety outreach campaign and a stepped-up police presence near crossings.
Officials said another level of safety measures is contemplated for the future.
Muoio said that when passenger services extend up the coast to Jupiter in coming months, the city will apply to the federal government to extend the quiet zone from 15th street north to the city line.
West Palm is the first of six cities in Palm Beach County to establish the quiet zone. Lake Worth’s is scheduled to start next Monday, May 21.
Four other cities — Lantana, Hypoluxo, Delray and Boca Raton — are now eligible to apply for the quiet zone designation. It takes federal officials 21 days to review a city’s plan and decide whether safety upgrades meet the requirements to allow train operators to stop blasting their horns at crossings.
In Boynton Beach, city officials this year asked county transportation planners to install more restrictive barriers at four railroad crossings, including the one at East Ocean Avenue, where a bicyclist was struck and killed by a Brightline train in January after pedaling around safety gates.
A Brightline spokeswoman encouraged other cities seeking quiet zones to inform residents. The rail company on Monday placed eight electronic sign boards near crossings in West Palm and Lake Worth announcing the quiet zone starts.
Brightline’s passenger service continues its expansion, with the Miami station set to come on line Saturday.
The company will start shuttling passengers to its downtown Miami station with discounted round-trip fares starting at $6 for its grand opening weekend — a price that is competitive with the cost of a Tri-Rail ticket.
To mark the final phase of its South Florida launch, Brightline plans to slash its one-way ticket prices this weekend to $3 for its a seat in one of the company’s regular coach cars. One-way tickets for a Select seat, Brightline’s version of first class, will cost just $5. Tickets can be purchased online at gobrightline.com.
National rail safety campaign Operation Lifesaver’s top five rail safety tips:
* Look and listen for a train as you approach all railroad crossings — obey all signs, warning lights and gates.
* Trains are quieter and faster than you think — never try to beat a train.
* Because of their size and weight, it can take a mile or more to stop a train.
* Always expect a train on any track; avoid distractions when you approach a crossing.
* Railroad property is private property. Walking on the tracks is illegal and dangerous.