By Jane Smith
The blaring horns from FEC freight trains and Brightline passenger trains will soon stop in most South County cities.
In Boca Raton, a quiet zone was scheduled to begin at 11:59 p.m. May 30. The city’s website explained: “Residents may still hear train horns in emergency situations or when the trains comply with other railroad rules. … A more appropriate description of a designated quiet zone would be a ‘reduced train horn area.’”
Boca Raton followed West Palm Beach and Lake Worth in their quiet zone designations along the Florida East Coast railroad tracks.
Quiet zone construction can include quad gates or a raised median between travel lanes to improve safety at the crossings. The county’s Transportation Planning Agency is paying for the construction. Individual cities will have to cover the maintenance costs.
When the county’s work is finished, cities then can petition the Federal Railroad Administration about their intent to install quiet zones. Federal officials need 21 days to review the plans and decide whether the safety upgrades are sufficient to allow train operators to stop blasting their horns at the crossings.
In Delray Beach, City Manager Mark Lauzier brought up the quiet zone application at the May 15 City Commission meeting. With commission consensus, he filed the city’s application the next day.
The application was quickly approved, and the city’s quiet zone should be in place by June 2.
Mayor Shelly Petrolia also wants cameras to be installed at the city’s heavily used crossings. She would like to know where else the city needs to install pedestrian and bicyclist barriers, similar to the aluminum rail fence between Atlantic Avenue and Northeast First Street. The city had it installed after a woman took a well-used shortcut across the tracks in 2016 and was killed by a southbound freight train.
On May 9, Lantana and Hypoluxo received their notices that the supplemental safety items were in place.
Lantana began work on the required traffic counts in late May with the hopes of submitting the quiet zone package by June, Town Manager Deborah Manzo said in an email. She hoped the trains along the FEC tracks would no longer blast their horns by late June.
Hypoluxo is teaming with Lantana to submit its quiet zone package, said Hypoluxo Mayor Michael Brown. Hypoluxo has only two FEC crossings and both are on county roads — Miner and Hypoluxo roads.
Boynton Beach will have to wait until midsummer to apply for its quiet zone after asking for four more crossings to receive the extra protection.
“Safety is most important,” Mayor Steven Grant said at Brightline’s new Miami station on a May 11 media trip from West Palm Beach. In January, two people were killed by Brightline trains in Boynton Beach.
Brightline started its West Palm Beach to Miami run the following weekend with low introductory fares. On May 21, the fares rose to $15 each way for regular seats and $25 for special seats that are wider and offer free beverages and snacks. The fares likely will increase in a few months, according to Brightline.
At Brightline’s inaugural stop in Miami, the emphasis was on jobs created and a cleaner environment with fewer cars on South Florida highways.
The express trains travel at twice the speed of freight trains. Since Brightline passenger service began in January, four Palm Beach County people have been killed by the trains, which travel at 79 mph.
“People need to use caution near the Brightline trains,” U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson said at the Miami station.
She said she wrote a letter of support for the passenger line’s federal grant request of $2 million to $3 million for safety upgrades in the three South Florida counties.