Train horns to be silenced: Those long-promised quiet zones have a start date

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Train horns in South Florida will fall silent effective midnight May 18 when the long-promised and often-delayed quiet zones are scheduled to take effect, officials said.

“We’re ecstatic about the news,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, in a statement. “We have waited a long time for the quiet zones.”

Work began in late 2016 to increase safety measures at railroad crossings so engineers would no longer be required to blast their horns as a warning at every crossing between Miami and West Palm Beach.

The launch of Brightline higher-speed express passenger service in January 2018 — since re-branded as Virgin Trains USA — added more than 30 trains to the 30-plus Tri-Rail commuter trains and over 16 freight trains that roll along two sets of tracks every day and night.

With four horn blasts at each of more than 300 South Florida railroad crossings by each of the nearly 80 daily trains, residents’ complaints have been almost as deafening.

“I’ve had to purchase a white-noise machine to be able to sleep even with my windows closed,” said Robert Figueroa, an Oakland Park homeowner. “The trains blasting in the middle of the night have definitely impacted my sleep.”

“I share the frustrations of countless residents that can’t enjoy sleeping with their windows open due to the intolerable train noise,” echoed Graeme Lord, of Fort Lauderdale.

“[It] is more than anyone should have to bear,” said Steve Coleman, of Fort Lauderdale.

To meet federal requirements for quiet zones, Brightline/Virgin and the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization had to add more crossing gate arms, upgrade warning devices and technology, improve lighting; and add new signage, medians and curbs at more than 20 crossings along the Florida East Coast railroad corridor through eight cities in Broward County.

The supplemental safety measures are designed to discourage motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians from going under or around crossing gates when they are closed.

Quiet zones are already in place at FEC crossings between Boca Raton and West Palm Beach, between PortMiami and Northeast 79th Street in Miami-Dade and at most of the CSX railroad crossings used by Tri-Rail and freight trains between Miami and West Palm Beach. The lone remaining gap between Northeast 79th Street and the Broward County line will be added once the Miami-Dade County Commission gives its approval in June.

“This will be the longest single quiet zone in the country,” said Broward MPO executive director Gregory Stuart, in a statement. “While this project came across many challenges and delays, I believe the resulting decrease in noise for our communities will have a very positive impact.”

Train engineers still have the option of sounding their horns when they perceive an emergency on the tracks, such as a vehicle or pedestrian trespasser.

wkroustan@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4303 or Twitter @WayneRoustan

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