Cities and towns along Brightline’s route will decide this spring whether to follow through with a plan to silence the company’s train horns — a choice some leaders say could force them to put public safety above quality of life following recent deaths along the railroad tracks.
Palm Beach County transportation planners have pledged roughly $7 million to construct a series of safety improvements to establish a horn-free zone along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, where Brightline runs its trains at speeds up to 79 mph. The quiet zone is planned to run from 15th Street in West Palm Beach south to the Palm Beach County line and would silence the horns on both Brightline’s trains and the much-slower freight locomotives.
After the safety upgrades are completed in late March, it will be left to each city along the route to file a quiet zone application with the Federal Railroad Administration.
Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein said moving forward with that application could be difficult.
Brightline’s route runs through the heart of the city’s downtown, and residents and business owners are furious over the rise in horn blasts, he said. The company’s trains pass by the city as many as 22 times a day under the current schedule, blowing their horns at every crossing along the way.
But without the horns warning the public of an approaching train, Glickstein fears there will be a “dramatic escalation in fatalities.” He pointed to the number of tourists who visit every year, saying out-of-towners may not be familiar with the fast-moving passenger service.
“I have people just screaming about these horns,” Glickstein said. “The city is going to be forced into a very difficult dilemma of choosing between quality of life and the very real public safety issues with that train coming though at the frequency and speed that it does. If that horn isn’t blowing, people are going to misjudge the speed of that train.”
Safety vs. comfort
Brightline’s trains, which travel up to 79 mph through the downtown hubs of many of the county’s coastal cities and towns, have hit three people since Jan. 12 — the day before the company began shuttling paying passengers. Two of those people were killed.
In all three incidents, police said those struck did not heed warning lights and crossing gates positioned at the intersections.
“The city is going to have to make a decision, which is going to be a policy decision by the commission as to whether we make that (quiet zone) application now, or do we wait and see what happens,” Glickstein said. “I think logic dictates you err on the side of public safety rather than noise nuisances.”
Adding to the pain, Glickstein says that Brightline’s trains are mostly empty when they pass though the city. Brightline has not released its ridership counts, but a police report showed 55 passengers were on the Jan. 17 train that struck and killed a Boynton Beach man on a bicycle. Brightline’s trains can seat 240 passengers.
“We are very frustrated,” Glickstein said. “We have the noise, we have the disruption, we have the very real public safety issues, and we have ghost trains running through our town.”
Although Boynton Beach residents and business owners also have been looking forward to the quiet zone, Mayor Steven Grant said the city may have to weigh whether to silence the horns only at night.
“It makes sense to have the quiet zones at quiet times not necessarily throughout the whole day,” Grant said.
In West Palm Beach, Assistant City Administrator Scott Kelly said officials still plan to move forward with the quiet zone application once work is completed on the required safety upgrades. In the days before Brightline’s Jan. 13 debut, a group of city residents took aim at the company for not completing the upgrades before starting its passenger service.
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