Thirteen rail crossings that were getting no improvements as the city moves toward quieting train horns in the era of Brightline will get a dose of attention: flexible polymers markers, like the kind on highway toll lanes, that aim to create added separation between vehicles and trains.
“This is a relatively low-cost safety investment that we believe will yield high return when it comes to safety and saving lives,” Mayor Jeri Muoio said in announcing the move Friday.
The addition was heralded by one frequent critic of the noise produced by train horns blowing at all hours.
Rick Rose, a resident of the Grandview Heights neighborhood and a long-time rail safety advocate, called for just such a move in October, when he told The Palm Beach Post the county transportation planners had left 13 rail crossings in the city unchanged despite Brightline’s plans to run up to 32 passenger trains a day on the coastal Florida East Coast Railway tracks in Palm Beach County.
“It is huge,” Rose said of the changes, which the city plans to begin installing next month. “It strongly inhibits someone who wants to cheat and go around the gate and not wait.”
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.
Brightline trains struck and killed two people in their first eight days of service and have hit at least three more people, including one in a car, who have survived. The three who were injured included one suicide attempt.
Rose pointed to 51-year-old Jeffrey King, who was hit and killed by a northbound Brightline train when he pedaled his bicycle around the gates at a crossing in Boynton Beach. The flexible markers could have prevented him from maneuvering around the gates, Rose said.
“It is my strong opinion that had there been these types of barriers set up at that crossing, that bicyclist would be alive today,” Rose said.
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 has 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. That construction work has yet to be completed. It is being managed by Brightline.
Once it is finished, cities and towns along Brightline’s route can ask the federal government for permission to create a quiet zone to silence the horns on both Brightline’s trains and other freight locomotives.