What's the holdup with quiet zone areas for trains in South Florida?

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Running low on sleep, Larry Brown eventually ran out of patience.

"One time, I counted seven [trains] between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.," he said.

The Leave it to Layron team met Brown nearly a year ago. He'd recently retired and moved into a condo at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Dixie Highway, across the street from the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks.

Brown was in desperate need of relief from round-the-clock railroad racket -- specifically the train horns.

He shared letters he sent to elected officials and the railroad company, wondering if a quiet zone could be established along the tracks near his home. When he didn't hear back from anyone, he reached out to the LITL team.

That's when we learned a plan to address the train horns 24/7 was already underway. The quiet zone would not just be established outside Brown's condo, but along 26 miles of railroad track through Broward County.

"[With] the addition of 32 more trains a day, the public saw the writings on the wall," said Paul Calvaresi, with the Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization. 

When Brightline announced it would begin its rail service, the quiet zone discussion was ignited. The new trains and rail traffic would also come with upgrades to more than 20 Broward County rail crossings.

Federal regulations say if train horns are eliminated, they must be supplemented with other safety measures to make the rail crossings as safe as possible.  

Brightline replaced dozens of older gate mechanisms with new ones. New LED lights have been installed, along with medians and curbs. The company has also re-striped every crossing and added signage. New technological upgrades have also been implemented. 

"This is a great story about a public entity leveraging private investment to fund a quality-of-life improvement that has been desired for decades," said Ali Soule, director of public affairs with Brightline.

Soule said Brightline not only partnered with the Broward MPO, but also the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization and the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency to implement a quiet zone that stretches all the way from Port Miami and 15th Street in West Palm Beach along Brightline's route.

At the time, additional work was required for the quiet zone infrastructure and the work was expected to be completed in the summer of 2018.

But, last September, a letter from the Broward MPO cited "unforeseen construction delays and engineering issues" for delaying the quiet zones.

"The Broward MPO took the initiative to fund the railroad crossing safety improvements needed to make the entire railroad corridor in Broward, including the areas around Hollywood and South Dixie Highway, a quiet zone," the letter stated. "While the Broward MPO funded the necessary improvements, Brightline is responsible for design and construction of the required improvements … all improvements must be installed and functioning before the quiet zone becomes active. The Broward MPO has been working with Brightline to expedite the improvements."

In January, a Brightline executive sent a memo to the Broward MPO, saying the company was pleased that "despite an equipment shortage that created a delay, our team has implemented a recovery plan and now forecasts completion of the construction for the necessary supplemental safety measures for the quiet zone by Feb. 15. Our team will continue to coordinate closely with the MPO staff in order to expedite the filing of the Notice of Establishment. We would also like to encourage the Broward MPO team and cities along the corridor to start educating the public about the new condition. We are happy to work together as safety is also our top priority."

Calvaresi said the safety improvements for the corridor are above and beyond the Federal Railroad Administration expectations.

"The final step is filing paperwork with the FRA to make this quiet zone active," Calvaresi said. 

Manny Sarduy lives in West Palm Beach. His home looks straight at the FEC Railroad tracks. 

He said there is still the noises from the squealing wheels, the tons of steel and the chimes every time a train passes by, but life is considerably quieter.

There are signs posted, warning drivers who approach the tracks that read, "No Train Horns." The quiet zone from West Palm Beach to Boca Raton went into effect last year. 

"Yes," Sarduy said. "There's a big difference, now. It's quiet. It's good. It's much better."

Engineers can still sound the horns in emergencies, or for safety reasons. 

We've learned a quiet zone has been in effect in the city of Miami along the FEC railway, from the Port of Miami to 79th Street.

Miami-Dade County officials said the implementation of the quiet zone, from 79th Street to County Line Road, cannot happen until construction work is finished at Northeast 16th Avenue, between Northeast 125th and 135th streets. 

Officials told the LITL team that utility companies are working on the project site. Once the project is complete and the crossing has passed inspection, it will go before the county commissioners for a vote.

At that time, the Notice of Establishment (NOE) will be issued so that the quiet zone can be implemented. 

Miami-Dade officials said there have been inquiries as to whether specific areas or districts within the proposed quiet zone could be implemented sooner. Officials said the zone is considered one segment, and dividing it into segments would mean restarting the application and permitting process from the beginning. 

"We are aware of the inconvenience the train horns are causing residents and understand the urgency of this Quiet Zone. We are doing everything we can to expedite the implementation," said Karla Damian, a spokesperson with the county's Transportation and Public Works Department.  

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