Train operators could stop blasting their horns along Brightline’s route through West Palm Beach as soon as Monday, a silence that could soon be extended to six other cities around the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, officials announced this week.
Brightline has completed a series of safety upgrades needed to stop the horn blasts of both passenger and freight trains at crossings in six of the seven Palm Beach County cities along the company’s path. The work will take longer in Boynton Beach.
Whether the horns are silenced is ultimately up to municipal officials. Cities must file a plan to create a quietzone with the Federal Railroad Administration. Each city submits its plan independently from the others.
West Palm Beach and Lake Worth have already filed that paperwork. The quiet zone will take effect in West Palm Beach on Monday, according to Nick Uhren, executive director of the county’s Transportation Planning Agency.
A West Palm Beach spokeswoman, however, said Wednesday no announcement has been made about when the quiet zone will start. “The city hopes to make an announcement soon,” said Kathleen Walter, the city’s director of communications.
In Lake Worth, the horns are expected to stop blaring on Monday, May 21, Uhren told the agency’s board in an email this week. A Tweet posted by the city confirmed the start date and urged the public to “take extra care” at railroad crossings.
Four other cities — Lantana, Hypoluxo, Delray and Boca Raton — are now eligible to apply for the quiet zone designation. It takes federal officials 21days 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.
The addition led Brightline to revise its construction timeline. The additional work is expected to be completed in the next two to three months, Uhren said.
Although Brightline does not decide whether a quiet zone is needed and has no involvement in the applications that are sent to federal officials, the company said it is critical for city leaders to help alert the public about the horn-free zones.
“Brightline has engaged in an aggressive safety outreach campaign over the past 18 months that recently ramped up during our introductory service,” Adrian Share, the company’s executive vice president of rail infrastructure wrote in a letter to Urhen on Monday. “We, in partnership with the Florida East Coast Railway, strongly encourage cities applying for a quiet zone to immediately engage in outreach. We reemphasize our commitment to educating local communities about rail safety, but we cannot be the only entity sharing and spreading this important message.”
Since starting service in January, Brightline has run as many as 22 trains a day between downtown West Palm Beach and downtown Fort Lauderdale. The train’s operators are required to sound the locomotive’s horn at every rail crossing along the route, which currently runs along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks from 15th Street in West Palm Beach south to the Fort Lauderdale station.
Brightline is expected to expand its service to downtown Miami soon. And by 2020, the private rail service expects to link those three stops to Orlando.
The frequent horn blasts from the company’s locomotives have been a sore spot from some residents living along the tracks, several of whom have argued the quiet zones should have been established before Brightline’s trains began shuttling passengers.
Quiet zones require a higher level of safety because trains don’t blow their horns at crossings. Operators, however, still have the option to sound the horn if they see a safety issue on the tracks, such as a vehicle stopped in the middle of a crossing.
Boca Raton officials wasted no time filing the request to establish a quiet zone. The city’s paperwork was sent to federal officials on Tuesday — the day after Brightline notified county leaders that the work was complete.
“We’d been teed up ready to go,” interim Mayor Scott Singer said.
Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers warned residents to obey the gates now that the horns won’t blow. He said residents are eager to silence the horns.
“Bring on the quiet,” Rodgers said.
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers Lulu Ramadan, Tony Doris, Alexandra Seltzer and Kevin Thompson contributed to this report.