This week we’re all abuzz about “Quiet Zones.” In Friday’s Ledger, we learn a mere $2.4 million dollars would silence train horns over six crossings. Well, for at least three years. Then the Federal Railroad Administration would revisit the crossings.
But, first, what exactly is a “quiet zone?”
It’s simply a corridor of train tracks where the engineer has been ordered not to blow the horn.
Why do they blow horns? Safety. Why would you not want them to blow horns?
The horns last only for a few seconds. I understand they’re noisy. I live about a mile from the intersections, and I occasionally hear them early in the morning. I know they’re louder right next to the tracks. Talking to a few business persons within a block of the track, I most often heard “I don’t notice it anymore.”
I lived next to tracks for a few years. You know what is a lot more irritating than the safety horns? Tons of railroad cars rumbling by. “Quiet Zones” won’t help there.
Before I continue, I have a question…
How did a discussion about trains blocking traffic become one about noise?
The new Polk County rail center in Winter Haven will increase train traffic in Lakeland. That’s a fact under no dispute. Increased train traffic in Lakeland means more frequent, and longer wait times, for cars traveling through downtown Lakeland. That’s a traffic problem, not a noise issue.
We’ve lived with the trains for years. Will we really have that much more noise from four more trains a day?
If CSX is correct in their estimates, it will mean only four new trains a day, and all trains will get longer. Because the horn is only on the engine, train length is unimportant in the noise equation. As a matter of fact, the end of a train could be crossing South Florida and the train horn would be almost two miles away.
Even if the crossings are upgraded at the cost of 2.4 million, the train horns will still blow within a mile of downtown — at Ingram.
So why are we discussing train noise instead of traffic problems?
Because it would cost less to close crossings, and install better gates, than it would to create overpasses at six downtown streets.
But, in the end, quiet zones won’t address the train noise issue. In addition to the rumbling trains, we’ll have to listen as thousands of drivers a day grumble while waiting at those improved crossing gates. Not to mention all those living elsewhere in the city, who wonder why we spent $2.4 million that could have been used to improve traffic congestion.
Instead of misdirecting our energies by paying more than $2,000,000, let’s take that money and improve traffic through downtown. And let’s talk to CSX and the state about helping out.
CSX is getting plenty of money from the state to move to Winter Haven. That city is certainly going to get compensated. Orlando certainly wins out on the deal.
Meanwhile, Lakeland is the largest city to be negatively affected by the CSX project.
I’m sure CSX wouldn’t mind chipping in. After all, since we’re going to be neighbors, “one way or another.”
It’s only the neighborly thing to do.
• Read The CSX Roundhouse (great title) for Billy Townsend’s thoughts on this past week in Rail Hub Land.