All Aboard Florida's passenger trains will be blasting their horns through the Treasure Coast's rail crossings. And if local taxpayers don't want the additional noise, they'll have to pay.
The new service would "result in essentially a constant unrelenting blowing of their horns throughout the entire length of the city," the Vero Beach City Council stated in a Jan. 14 resolution seeking state money to help alleviate the noise.
Vero Beach is the just the latest noise-wary government, following St. Lucie Village, West Palm Beach and Broward and Palm Beach counties, to seek something the state doesn't even offer — grants to modify crossings into "quiet zones."
Fort Pierce and Indian River, Martin and St. Lucie counties may consider following suit.
"I don't think it's fair for St. Lucie County taxpayers to pay for this expense when there's no benefit for us," St. Lucie County Commission Chairwoman Frannie Hutchinson said. "They don't have plans for a stop here at this time or in the future."
All Aboard Florida will travel through the Treasure Coast, but won't stop here, on its Miami to Orlando route. Florida East Coast Industries is expected to start service in late 2015 with 16 trains, each making a round trip by daylight. Trains will pass through some 95 crossings here: 27 in Martin County, 26 in St. Lucie and 32 in Indian River.
The horns they'll be blowing would be in addition to the sounds of seven existing freight trains that make round trips through the Treasure Coast every 24 hours.
The New Noise
The trains are expected to travel at speeds of up to 110 mph between Miami and Cocoa and up to 125 mph west on new track to Orlando International Airport.
Federal regulations require trains to sound their horns in a series of specified bursts about 15 to 20 seconds before they reach a rail crossing.
Cities and counties can turn a crossing into a quiet zone by making the crossings so safe the trains don't need to sound their horns.
Freight trains already blow horns, but only seven round-trip trains — for 14 individual passages — chug through the Treasure Coast during a 24-hour period.
"It's the frequency" that makes All Aboard more of a noise concern, Vero Beach City Manager Jim O'Connor said.
While Vero Beach and other governments have asked for aid, they haven't specified how much they will need. Florida Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, said she wants to see such numbers — especially since the state doesn't typically give quiet-zone grants.
"I'll be happy to see if there's any funding the state has," she said, "but this is a private project, not a state project."
One feature of a quiet zone would be two additional gate arms. Most crossings already have one set of two gate arms, one on each side of the track. When a train approaches, the arms swing down across the respective side's oncoming traffic lane.
But they don't prevent impatient motorists from driving around the gates, using the ungated lanes to try and cross the track and beat the train.
With four gate arms, rail officials say, each lane on either side of the track is blocked, preventing risky crossings.
Extra gates and other specific features, such as concrete medians dividing the street lanes, would be based on a consultant's review of each crossing and its environment.
The Federal Rail Administration has estimated a city or county's cost at least $30,000 per crossing, depending on the number of crossings and the types of safety features.
But while Florida East Coast Industries has agreed to pay for safety upgrades at crossings, it won't pay toward studying or providing any quiet-zone enhancements.
"We would not participate in this," Rusty Roberts, FEC's vice president of corporate development, told the Vero Beach High Speed Rail Commission last week. "We don't do studies of quiet zones, so we wouldn't have engineers experienced in that regard."
FEC Vice President Bob Ledoux said the rail company doesn't have the authority to make or advise changes to the road.