Local governments still aren’t interested in quiet zones, even for free
Posted on March 4, 2016
By Lisa Broadt
By the end of 2017, trains traveling the Florida East Coast Railway tracks would blast their horns at least 9,000 times a day.
All 9,000 would occur as Brightline passenger trains and Florida East Coast freight trains cut through the Treasure Coast.
To silence the 110-decibel horns, local governments officials need only raise their hands and ask the Federal Railroad Administration for quiet zones, or stretches of track where safety infrastructure meets a federal standard eliminating the need for a train to sound its horn.
But, at least for now, no officials have plans to do so - even though it would be all but free, according to All Aboard Florida president Michael Reininger.
Nearly two years ago, the company said that to mitigate the effects of its $3 billion, Miami-to-Orlando railroad, it would help pay for quiet zones.
Last year it made good on that promise to local governments between Miami and Orlando, paying for at least 20 percent, and in some cases up to 85 percent, of the work needed to meet quiet-zone standards, according Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization.
All Aboard Florida has offered the Treasure Coast an even better deal. Here it would be virtually free, because work planned north of West Palm Beach already exceeds quiet-zone standards, according to All Aboard Florida.
When communities establish quiet zones on their own, costs can vary from $30,000 to more than $1 million per crossing, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Reininger on Thursday said that despite interest among Treasure Coast residents, no local government has applied to the railroad administration.
Reininger said he hopes the governments will come around, but emphasized that only local governments can initiate the process.
"We're standing by the ready to help with any applications. We have a little experience with it, having gone through it with some of the other municipalities," Reininger said. "We're happy to engage in that conversation. We've been open to that engagement for a long, long time."
Treasure Coast officials previously have said accepting quiet zones would increase crossing maintenance costs - for which local governments are responsible - and could increase liability for accidents.
But there may also be concern about perception: Indian River and Martin counties are in the midst of lawsuits against All Aboard Florida and say the project can and will be stopped.
Requesting the quiet zones apparently could indicate resignation or could be viewed as cooperation, some Stuart and Martin County officials have said.
The basic objection is "philosophical," according to Stuart City Manager Paul Nicoletti.
"Until they agree to mitigate some of the adverse impacts, we just feel like it's not the time to negotiate," Nicoletti said.
Still, local governments have not ruled out the possibility.
Fort Pierce City Clerk Linda Cox on Friday said the city is "evaluating whether to consider quiet zones" but has not applied.
St. Lucie County, meanwhile, hopes to hold a regional forum for municipalities to discuss quiet zones, according to spokesman Erick Gill.
"After that, we would schedule a workshop with the Board of County Commissioners to decide on what direction we want to go," Gill said.
Sebastian officials previously have expressed interest in quiet zones and have spoken with the railroad administration but have not yet made a formal application, according to All Aboard Florida.
Construction of the passenger railroad already has begun between Miami and West Palm Beach, and service there is to begin by mid-2017, with full service beginning in late 2017.
QUIET ZONE PROCESS
The steps generally needed to establish a quiet zone:
Determine which crossings will be included in the quiet zone.
Conduct a diagnostic review of the crossings.
Update the U.S. Department of Transportation on the current physical and operating conditions at each public, private and pedestrian crossing in the proposed quiet zone.
Provide a Notice of Intent to the state and railroad. The notice must explain any planned safety improvements.
Complete safety improvements. All the crossings need to have, at minimum, an automatic warning system with flashing lights and gates.
Establish the quiet zone by providing a Notice of Quiet Zone Establishment to the railroad and state and federal agencies. The quiet zone can go into effect 21 days after the notice is sent out.
Source: Federal Railroad Administration