The Palm Beach Post: Federal Railroad Administration confirms FEC horns aren’t too loud
Posted on April 10, 2015
The Federal Railroad Administration confirmed Thursday that horns on new locomotives being used by Florida East Coast Railway are sounding well within required guidelines at 103.6 decibels.
Engineers from the Federal Railroad Administration performed tests on the horns this week following dozens of complaints from residents living along the FEC corridor that train horn noise has increased with the addition of 24 new GE locomotives to the line in December.
Federal regulation requires train horns to be between 96 and 110 decibels.
FEC announced the 103.6 decibel level on its website, but did not respond to questions about the level of noise produced by the company’s older locomotives. Palm Beach Post public records requests to FRA for its decibel level report and noise complaint information have not been filled.
“I think we’d like to see an independent study from a third party,” said Brent Hanlon, general manager of the exclusive Loblolly community in Hobe Sound, which is adjacent to the FEC tracks. “We’re getting complaints from longtime residents about the increase in noise, and FEC should find a way to make it more tolerable.”
While the new locomotives are more fuel-efficient, railway officials have acknowledged that their horns may sound different because they have five chimes instead of the three that were on most of the older locomotives. The horns are also in a different location on the engines and have a different pitch and frequency.
FEC officials said in a train horn update posted last week that mitigating the noise is expensive and may not be effective.
“FECR investigated what modifications could be made to the horns to soften the sound and still meet the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) requirement for decibel level,” the company said on its website. “The cost of parts, modification, rerouting of air lines and re-certification of the horns is significant with no guarantee the modification would mitigate the noise.”
In lieu of mitigation, FEC suggested that communities lobby for quiet zones, which have been guaranteed from Hallandale Beach in Broward County to West Palm Beach with the addition of the All Aboard Florida passenger rail project.
But quiet zones could be two years out under All Aboard Florida’s timeline. Residents would like to see a solution in the interim.
Renee Zarro, president of the Grandview Heights Neighborhood Association, said residents aren’t the only ones affected by the train horn blasts. Businesses may also suffer losses.
“They are asking us to be good neighbors and get behind their railroad,” Zarro said. “This is an opportunity for them to be good neighbors. I would imagine they could figure out a way to address this issue.”
Rick Rose, an owner of a West Palm Beach bed and breakfast three blocks west of the FEC tracks, said the increase in noise level was “substantial.”
Rose called on railway officials to look for ways to reduce noise levels until a quiet zone is created. The All Aboard project will run 32 express trains per day on the FEC tracks between Miami and West Palm Beach beginning in 2016. If quiet zones are established, freight train horns as well as those of passenger trains will be silenced.
“If we really have to be with this for another two years, wouldn’t it be possible for them to disengage a couple of chimes?” Rose said. “They have the old engines. Couldn’t they just switch out the old horns in place of the new ones?”