West Palm could get first quiet zone along Brightline’s route

West Palm Beach is poised to become the first of six cities along Brightline’s route to establish a quiet zone to silence the company’s train horns.

Brightline officials said this week that the company has completed a series of safety upgrades needed to stop the horn blasts of both passenger and freight trains at nearly 30 rail crossings along the Florida East Coast Railroad corridor from 15th Street south to to the city line.

City officials are in the process of inspecting that work. It’s unclear how long it will take for those inspections to be completed.

“Knowing how important the creation of a quiet zone is to our residents, the City is expeditiously moving forward with its inspection,” Spokeswoman Kathleen Walter said Tuesday.

Quiet zone work in four other cities — Lake Worth, Lantana, Delray and Boca — is expected to be completed around the end of the month, officials said. The work will take longer in Boynton Beach because of a change to the type of safety upgrades originally planned in that city.

Silencing Brightline: One-fourth of crossings to get no improvements

As safety upgrades are completed in each of the cities, it will be left to municipal officials to file their plan to create a quiet zone with the Federal Railroad Administration. Each city submits its plan independently from the others.

It takes about 21 days from the time the request is filed with the federal government until the quiet zone is established, officials have said.

Quiet zones require a higher level of safety, because trains don’t blow their horns at crossings. If quiet zones are established in all six cities along Brightline’s route, train operators will no longer be required to blow their horns between 15th Street in West Palm Beach and the county line in Boca Raton.

RELATED: Local leaders consider added Brightline safety measures

In Boynton Beach, city officials earlier this year asked county transportation planners to install more restrictive barriers at four railroad crossings, including the including one at East Ocean Avenue, where a bicyclist was struck and killed by a Brightline train in January after pedaling around safety gates.

The addition led Brightline to revise its construction timeline. The company now expects to complete the quiet zone work in Boynton Beach in mid-April, officials said.

Since starting service in January, Brightline has run as many as 22 trains a day between downtown West Palm Beach and downtown Fort Lauderdale. Service is expected to be expanded to downtown Miami soon. And by 2020, the private rail service expects to link those three stops to Orlando. The trains to Fort Lauderdale can travel up to 79 mph, about twice as fast as freight traffic.

Before it began service, Brightline was required to complete a series of safety upgrades along the FEC corridor, including the installation of a signal system that communicates with approaching trains, triggers gate openings and closings, and regulates train-crossing times.

In addition to those features, county transportation planners pledged roughly $7 million for a number of other safety improvements to establish the quiet zone. Those upgrades include medians and additional railroad gates that block traffic on both sides of the tracks at crossings.

Under the quiet zone plan, 20 of 80 railroad crossings in Palm Beach County will receive no additional upgrades to keep motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians from maneuvering around lowered warning gates.

Less than half the crossings will have the most restrictive safety barrier, known as quad gates, to cover all lanes of traffic on both sides of the tracks. The gates, at big intersections such as Forest Hill Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue, create a fully closed barrier to block people from entering the crossing when a train is approaching.

Brightline has stepped up safety measures since starting service in January. The safety effort is part of a larger education campaign the company launched more than a year ago.

This week, the company mailed safety information to the homes of nearly 40,000 Palm Beach County school children living near the FEC railroad tracks.

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