Making the Grade: What Happens During Grade Crossing Work
October 7, 2016
If you live in South Florida, you’ve probably seen Brightline construction crews building the service’s three train stations. You may have even seen Brightline crews laying rail, ties and ballast. But you’ve definitely seen Brightline crews working in the roadways. That’s because the Brightline rail corridor that was built at the turn of the century by Florida pioneer Henry Flagler now has many roads crossing the tracks—178 between Miami and West Palm Beach to be exact! Brightline crews have spent the past year expanding these crossings to accommodate a second track, which will allow Brightline to run its express passenger train service.
These crossings, officially called highway-rail grade crossings, are defined as a point at which a railway and a roadway cross “at grade,” or at the same level. Along the Brightline corridor, crossings are equipped with warning devices, such as gates, flashing lights, bells, roadway striping and signage. About 30 seconds before a train gets to a crossing, these warning devices “activate,” and traffic on the roadway stops to let the train pass. The entire grade crossing cycle, including the closing of the gate, a Brightline train passing and the reopening of the gates, will take less than 60 seconds.
While the roadways within the crossings themselves are railroad property, Brightline works closely with local municipalities, county staff, school districts, transit agencies, FDOT and area stakeholders to minimize temporary impacts to the traveling public while construction is underway.
Archer Western, a national contractor that recently built the SunRail commuter rail project in Central Florida, is overseeing the rail infrastructure work along the rail corridor for Brightline. More than 200 workers are busy upgrading the grade crossings and building the necessary infrastructure required for train travel in South Florida.
You may have heard about road closures in your area as a result of the double track construction being performed. But what is actually happening during that closure?
To install a second track in a crossing, Brightline crews first cut into the roadway to remove the asphalt where the new track will go. Then they install the new track about 14 feet from the existing track, using wooden ties instead of the concrete ties you see on the rest of the rail corridor. Next, they install track panels, which fill the space between and around the rails, making a raised surface that cars will cross on. Finally, they resurface the road, ensuring a smooth transition between the existing road and the track panels. All of this work can be done in advance, even if the rest of the second track that will stretch from West Palm Beach to Miami is not installed in that area yet. Short stubs of rail are left sticking out beyond the edge of the crossing in the rail corridor, so that when the full double track system is built, the crossings are ready to go!
All of this work typically takes about 55 continuous hours. For the safety of the construction crews and the traveling public, no vehicles can cross the tracks during this time.
For your information, upcoming major closures include:
- Davie Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale: closing 10/13, 7 a.m. and reopening 10/21, 6 p.m.
- N Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale: closing 11/7, 7 a.m. and reopening 11/12, 6 p.m.
- Oakland Park Boulevard/SR 816, Oakland Park: closing 11/10, 7 a.m. and reopening 11/18, 6 p.m.
- Commercial Boulevard/NE 50th Street, Oakland Park, Fort Lauderdale: closing 11/28, 7 a.m. and reopening 12/3, 6 p.m.
New and re-imagined train travel is coming soon to Florida. Brightline is scheduled to begin service in mid-2017, offering convenient and comfortable transportation between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in mid-2017. It will offer a smarter and brighter way to travel among the major hubs of South Florida, without having to contend with traffic.