UPDATE: Safety improvements needed to create a continuous quiet zone to silence train horns from West Palm Beach south to the Palm Beach County line will be completed in March, a Brightline spokesperson said Thursday.
The work is scheduled to begin this month. Once complete, municipalities along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks must file an application with the Federal Railroad Administration in order to create the zone.
In a letter sent to West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio on Thursday, the board of directors of the CityPlace South Tower urged city officials to “intercede with Brightline” to delay its launch until federal applications have been filed to implement a quiet zone along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.
Brightline will start introductory service between West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday. Round-trip ticket prices start at $20. The company will offer 10 daily roundtrip trains on weekdays and nine daily roundtrip trains on the weekends.
The association said it supports Brightline’s express passenger service, but is “very concerned” about the city’s recent announcement that it will be four to six months before the quiet zone is established. Horn blasts from the company’s trains threaten the emotional and physical well-being and quality of life for city residents, workers, and visitors, the association said.
The noise also jeopardizes the city’s economic viability, the condo’s board argued.
“Allowing train service to begin under these circumstances is simply unacceptable,” the board wrote in Thursday’s letter. “Please take the appropriate measures to address this issue – no service until improvements are completed.”
Muoio is expected to meet with Brightline officials Thursday afternoon to discuss the quiet zone delay. Brightline has said it will be several months before safety upgrades needed to establish the zone are complete.
The delay means property owners along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks between 15th Street in West Palm Beach and the county line in Boca Raton will continue to hear horn blasts from both freight traffic and the new Brightline trains once the private venture begins its passenger rail.
Brightline has been testing its trains without passengers for months along the rail corridor — blowing horns at rail crossings through coastal cities and towns, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth and the southern part of West Palm Beach. But many residents living along the tracks had expected the blasts to stop once Brightline begins carrying passengers.
Quiet zones require a higher level of safety because trains don’t blow their horns at crossings. A quiet zone would eliminate the need to sound horns at each crossing for both the express passenger trains and freight trains that already use the FEC tracks.
To begin service, Brightline invested more than $60 million complete a series of safety upgrades along the FEC corridor from Miami to West Palm Beach, including the installation of a signal system that communicates with approaching trains, triggers gate openings and closings, and regulates train-crossing times. That work has been completed.
In addition to those features, the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency pledged roughly $7 million for a number of other safety improvements to establish the quiet zone. Those upgrades include medians and additional railroad gates to block traffic on both sides of the tracks at crossings.
That work has not been completed. It is being managed by Brightline.
In 2014, the county’s transportation planners inked a deal with Brightline that allowed the company’s construction crews to complete the additional safety upgrades. At the time, officials said the plan would save the agency money because Brightline’s team was already working along the corridor. Mobilizing another construction crew would add at least $1 million to the price tag, officials said.
Under the agreement, Brightline is reimbursed for work once it is completed.
The company was not given all of the money up front, Uhren said. Instead, it has received periodic reimbursements as portions of the upgrades are finalized.
Once the construction work is finalized, each municipality is required to file a quiet zone application with the Federal Railroad Administration. There is a 21-day waiting period before the zone can go into effect.