The Palm Beach Post: FEC train horn complaints prompt action

Posted on February 6, 2015

By Kimberly Miller


The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating complaints that horns from trains running on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks have gotten louder than what residents are accustomed to and can be heard farther away.


Since early last week, the agency has received more than 60 complaints about the intensity of the horns, which are restricted to decibel levels of between 96 and 110.


Florida East Coast Railway began running new locomotives on the tracks in late November, following an earlier announcement that the company would acquire 24 engines with better fuel efficiency to haul freight on the 351-mile route between Jacksonville and Miami.


According to a press release on the company’s website, one conductor remarked “the new GE locomotives are quieter with a comfortable ride and loud horn.”


FEC spokeswoman Debra Phillips said the horns may just seem louder because the trains make less noise.


“We have tested these horns and they conform to the required decibel levels set by the Federal Railroad Administration,” Phillips said. “We generally get more complaints this time of year as the weather allows for windows to be open and there are less leaves on trees to mute the horn.”


The Centers for Disease Control lists 110 decibels as equivalent to the sound of a jackhammer or chainsaw. An ambulance siren is equivalent to 120 decibels.


“I’m not suggesting this is being done on purpose, but it’s certainly noticeable that the horns are louder,” said Brent Hanlon, general manager of the exclusive Loblolly community in Hobe Sound, which is adjacent to the FEC tracks.


Rick Rose, an owner of a West Palm Beach bed and breakfast three blocks west of the FEC tracks, agrees that horn complaints increase in the winter as drier weather moves in and air conditions are turned off.


Still, he said he’s received 10 emails from people throughout the city asking about the volume increase, and has received more comments than usual from bed and breakfast guests about the loudness of the horns. In 2006, Rose worked to get quiet zones at some crossings on the CSX tracks, which carry Tri-Rail commuter trains.


“One thing to consider is whether the new horns focus more toward the front of the train, because there are some restrictions in terms of the focus of the blast,” Rose said. “The main thing for me is I don’t want to hear the train horns anymore.”


Train conductors are generally required to sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings. The horns are blown in a pattern of two long blasts, one short blast, and one long blast.


Quiet zones, where conductors do not blow horns at crossings, are planned for the FEC tracks with the addition of All Aboard Florida’s express passenger rail service. All Aboard Florida will run 32 trains per day on the FEC tracks between Miami and Orlando, with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.


Service between Miami and West Palm Beach is expected to begin in late 2016. The Orlando leg should open in early 2017.


Bruce Barber, who lives a few blocks from the FEC tracks in West Palm Beach, said the train horns have seemed louder and more frequent to him lately.


“We’re confident that once the quiet zone is put in that will at least resolve the noise issue, but in the meantime it definitely seems like the horns have been pumped up a bit,” Barber said.


FRA spokesman Michael J. Cole said the agency is working quickly to review the horn complaints.


“We all understand the necessity of train horns at crossings,” Cole said. “But we want to make sure we are not unduly burdening citizens.”

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