Turns out the recently enacted quiet zones designed to muzzle the blaring sounds of those oncoming 80 mph Brightline trains in Palm Beach County are really more like ‘sometimes’ quiet zones.
Train horns will still sound during emergencies and construction, said Ali Soule, spokeswoman for Brightline.
That was the case Monday in West Palm Beach and two weeks ago in Delray Beach where workers are doing signal maintenance along the tracks.
West Palm officials received so many phone calls asking why the horns were still deafening along the tracks between 15th Street and Forest Hill Boulevard, the city issued a statement clarifying the situation and emphasizing it was not aware of the construction in that area.
“FEC has indicated that, as a result of their maintenance of tracks and switches, train engineers may blow their horn if workers are near the tracks,” spokesperson Kathleen Walter said in a statement. “This construction may last for up to 90 days.
“As the City does not have oversight over the railway, the schedule for construction and maintenance activities along this corridor is controlled exclusively by the railroad. Still, the City felt strongly that this information was important to share with our community, as neither the City nor our residents had been made aware of the construction activities.”
Routine construction along the FEC tracks is frequent so the noise is still as piercing.
West Palm is the first of seven cities in Palm Beach County to establish the quiet zone along Brightline’s route. Two weeks ago, Delray residents were also griping about the blasts.
“I heard (the horns) three times in the morning and I left the house at 9:30 a.m.,” said Patty Ennis-Stone, who lives near the tracks at Lindell Boulevard and Dixie Highway. “It’s annoying as all hell.”
Some of the early confusion regarding the continued use of train horns seems to have been born out of unrealistic expectations of what quiet zones really mean.
“Just because there’s a quiet zone doesn’t mean you’ll never hear a train horn again,” Soule said. “If there’s an emergency situation, or if it is outlined in the federal law, a locomotive engineer is required to blow the horn.”
In Boca Raton, officials have also seen confusion on social media regarding the noise near the Broward-Palm Beach boarder, but haven’t received the volume of phone complaints like West Palm Beach.
“It’s a ‘quiet zone’ because it’s a heck of a lot more quiet than it was with 20 trains going by a day, but we just do a lot of education with people to let them know that doesn’t mean you’re not going to hear a horn,” said Chrissy Gibson, a spokeswoman for Boca Raton.
With hundreds of miles of track running from Miami to West Palm Beach, there are bound to be projects to upgrade signals or maintain tracks and switches, officials say. The work isn’t a 24-hour process and train engineers only have to blow the horn when workers are present in the corridor.
“For us, it’s important because it’s a quality of life issue, so I think it’s important that our citizens are well aware of what’s transpiring along this corridor,” said Scott Kelly, assistant city administrator for West Palm Beach.
Gibson said the full elimination of horns would not happen and that was made clear during news conferences about the quiet zones.
Some members of the community still see benefit in the sounding of train horns.
Mike Pikney, a supervisor at The Salvation Army Northwest Community Center located near railroad tracks in West Palm Beach, said he has noticed how quiet the trains have become but worries they may be too quiet.
“I think it’s almost too quiet, because we have kids and we constantly have to tell them to be careful around the tracks because you just don’t hear the train coming,” said Mike Pikney, a supervisor at The Salvation Army Northwest Community Center in West Palm Beach, located near railroad tracks. “A lot of kids today wear headphones and stuff like that, so the well-being of the children of the community is more my concern.”
All Aboard Florida, which operates Brightline, is owned by an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group LLC, a global investment management firm. Fortress Investment Group LLC is contracted to manage and advise New Media Investments Inc., which owns GateHouse Media, the parent company of The Palm Beach Post.
Follow Palm Beach Post reporter Ryan DiPentima on twitter at @Ryan_DiPentima