West Palm: Brightline quiet zones not coming for 4-6 months

It’s not exactly the way West Palm Beach residents living near a section of the Florida East Coast Railway wanted to ring in the new year — not with party favors but a promise of more screaming locomotive horns outside their windows for months to come.

Those living along the route slated for the new Brightline passenger service learned from the city of West Palm Beach on Sunday that a quiet zone will not go into effect for up to six months. Brightline announced it will begin service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale during the week of Jan. 8.

“Once implemented, this quiet zone will go a long way toward improving the quality of life of our residents,” said Assistant City Administrator Scott Kelly said in the city’s Facebook post. “We ask the public to be patient at this time, as the quiet zone is coming.”

The quiet zones are slated for the FEC corridor from West Palm Beach south to the county line. The area, long bedeviled by horns of freight trains, would be free of such blasts — except in emergencies — after safety upgrades are in place.

The Palm Beach Post has been asking the city and county transportation planner for weeks when the quiet zones would be implemented but the municipality stayed mum until Sunday when in a Facebook post it announced it will be four to six months before residents won’t be hearing train horns.

Until then, both freight and passenger trains on the tracks will continue to blow their horns. Engineers are required to sound the horns at least 15 seconds and no more than 20 seconds in advance of all public grade crossings.

The safety improvements necessary for the quiet zones are expected to be completed by early spring, Kelly said. This also almost certainly means that quiet zones will be delayed for other municipalities from West Palm Beach to Boca Raton.

The city says implementing a quiet zone is a process and includes identifying supplemental safety improvements at key crossings. The city must also inspect infrastructure improvements made by Brightline at those crossings and submit findings to various organizations.

Brightline eventually plans to run as many as 32 trains a day between Miami and Orlando on the FEC tracks at speeds up to 110 mph.

Brightline started simulated service in December with 10 round trips a day between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale and already residents along the tracks are up in arms.

“That’s the worse news I’ve heard,” said Michael Freeman, who lives in CityPlace SouthTower. “That’s pathetic. I’m going to move. We can’t stand it. We are right on the tracks.”

Freeman, though, said he wants to get residents organized and plans on talking to his homeowners association. He wants to picket apartment buildings under construction to warn would-be buyers of the train noise.

“We are ready to take it to the train lines and go to the tracks and let them run us over,” he said. “We can get 1,000 people from downtown to do it. It was bad enough with the freight trains, but now with Brightline, it’s terrible.”

Brent Hanlon, chairman of Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, said the delay in the quiet zones is an example of another promise broken by the new passenger rail line.

“It’s been awhile since they delivered on their word,” said Hanlon, who lives in Hobe Sound.

Hanlon says he fears that safety precautions for Brightline are not in place for its launch, noting outdated bridges and more than 200 crossings between Miami and West Palm Beach.

“I hate to say it, but it’s just a matter of time before some catastrophic event happens,” Hanlon said. “What baffles me is how our transportation department can allow this railroad to come online without all the safety measures in place.”

Federally mandated guidelines say train horns must be in the range of 96 decibels to 110 decibels, akin to a jet taking off at 1,000 feet away, an outboard motor or jackhammer.

Train horns long have tormented those living along the tracks.

In 2015, when FEC unleashed its new horns that some residents described as “psychological torture.” The discussion of expanding quiet zones in South Florida took root but eventually was deemed cost-prohibitive.

Residents in West Palm Beach will now have to wait a little longer.

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