Sound Off! A Public-Private Partnership for a Quiet, Safe Corridor
October 14, 2016
Progress for the launch of the Brightline train service in Florida comes in many forms – from the construction of the train stations and the trains to the maintenance facility and improvements to the rail corridor. Another facet of the work we are doing is helping to establish Quiet Zones along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. What are Quiet Zones? Read on to find out.
The train horn, the oldest railroad safety device, sounds differently to every ear. Per federal statute, train engineers must sound the horn in advance of grade crossings to notify motorists or pedestrians of an approaching train. Some hear nostalgia: the familiar refrain of industry, a symbol of progress on wheels, Americana. Some hear it for what it is: a warning to motorists and pedestrians—train coming, two long blasts, one short, and one long. Still others hear an annoyance, a distant wake-up call meant for someone else. Any way you hear it, the soundscape in South Florida is about to change, thanks to a public-private partnership creating “Quiet Zones” next year.
Brightline has partnered with the metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties to create federally-designated Quiet Zones extending from PortMiami to 15th Street in West Palm Beach. These Quiet Zones are being equipped with additional safety measures at highway-rail grade crossings which eliminate the need for regular sounding of the train horn. Constructed according to strict design standards from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), these Quiet Zones will provide a quality of life improvement to millions of South Florida residents without compromising public safety.
The additional safety improvements being built, known as Supplemental Safety Measures (SSMs), were identified by the three MPOs using publicly-available data analysis tools from the FRA, with close support from Brightline staff. Brightline is building these MPO-funded improvements as a component of its grade crossing construction program. Through this partnership, the MPOs were able to leverage Brightline’s permitting, mobilization, and construction management resources, yielding considerable savings in time and money. The result will be a 67-mile, 24-hour continuous Quiet Zone for both passenger and freight trains. Locomotive engineers will only use the train horn in the event that they encounter a trespasser, errant vehicle, or other hazard.
SSMs are safety infrastructure built at grade crossings in addition to the standard gates, flashing lights and signs. The most basic type of SSM being built by Brightline and the MPOs is a traffic separator, a 60-100’ concrete divider which keeps drivers on the right side of the road and prevents them from illegally driving around a lowered crossing gate when a train is approaching. Another common SSM drivers will encounter is called an exit gate, which meets tip-to-tip with the standard “entrance” gate covering the roadway lanes. Like traffic separators, exit gates provide a barrier to illegal movement around a lowered entrance gate. Both types of improvements enhance public safety at grade crossings by keeping drivers away from the tracks when a train approaches.
An added benefit of the construction? In addition to Quiet Zones, the partnership with the MPOs will also create pedestrian improvements, such as new sidewalks, throughout the three counties.
For Palm Beach County residents, the Palm Beach MPO has built a convenient online tool to see the Quiet Zone improvements.
Through the unique partnership forged between Brightline and the Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach MPOs, train travel is becoming more convenient, and more quiet.
Brightline is scheduled to begin train service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in mid-2017. Brightline passenger trains will offer a smarter and brighter way to travel among the major hubs of South Florida, without having to contend with the traffic and stress of highways and roads.