TAMPA — The longstanding issue of CSX freight train horns awakening downtown Tampa residents at night moved a step closer to consideration by railroad and city and county officials on Tuesday — if not resolution of the problem that’s bedeviled some for years.
Bob O’Malley, resident vice president Florida for CSX, told Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman CSX would be willing to meet local government staff members to discuss prospects of a “Quiet Zone” designation.
That’s a Federal Railroad Administration rule exception created in 2005 for local agencies or communities to establish quiet zones at railroad crossings, which waive the railroad horn requirement if full-width crossing gates, flashing lights and other devices are installed.
Because the costs to establish a quiet zone can range from $30,000 to more than $1 million, depending on the number of crossings to be improved with required safety improvements, the solution has not been easy to implement nationwide.
CSX and Lakeland city officials have been trying to create a resolution to noise issues at crossings there, O’Malley said.
There’s been no organized outcry in Tampa, although several dozen people posting on a community online message board have weighed in over the past year with comments, not all complaints.
The noise issue came to light at Port Tampa Bay’s monthly board meeting, following a presentation O’Malley gave on CSX’s new intermodal truck and rail terminal near Winter Haven that he said would pair with a smaller Tampa facility to create better transportation options for the state’s largest population growth corridor.
Buckhorn, who sits on the port’s board, raised the noise issue as an unrelated topic.
“I hear them all night long,” Buckhorn said. “Then people call us. A sleep-deprived constituent is not a good thing.”
Buckhorn added that with five new high rises under development downtown, the CSX noise issue is becoming urgent. The sound reverberates off downtown buildings, he said.
Murman added that residents on Davis Islands were reporting hearing train horns at 5 a.m.
CSX operates trains into Port Tampa Bay, across from Davis Islands. It also uses a track on differing daily schedules that runs down the middle of Polk Street through downtown before heading to South Tampa along a track that passes near apartments and homes.
O’ Malley said he’d check to ensure CSX engineers “were not leaning on the horn” and were following FRA guidelines. But he explained that CSX locomotive engineers must follow FRA regulations.
The FRA requires train engineers to sound horns 20 seconds before reaching public crossings, no matter the time of day. Locomotive engineers must sound train horns for a minimum of 15 seconds and a maximum of 20 seconds.
The regulations call for two long, one short and one long horn burst, when feasible, continuing until the lead car passes into the crossing.
The maximum volume for a train horn has been established at 110 decibels, and the minimum volume is 96 decibels — the decibel range between a power mower on the low end and chain saw or rock concert at the high end, a National Institutes of Health chart shows.