Winter Park came a step closer to quieting its railroad Monday as the City Commission voted to move forward into the design phase for a “quiet zone” project, allowing the city to prohibit trains from blaring their steam horns when approaching railroad crossings.
The project would involve building a combination of new fences, railroad gates and medians at all of the city’s 16 crossings, further barring residents from getting through by car or on foot in the absence of the train whistle. Only the crossing at New England Avenue is already finished.
The Department of Transportation plans to modify three more of the railroad crossings as part of the SunRail station project.
City staff are actively pursuing federal funding for the project, but City Commissioners agreed on potentially tapping $900,000 worth of funding from FEMA reimbursements, given to the city to aid recovery efforts following Hurricane Charley in 2004.
“Trains in our city are heard at all hours of the day and night throughout our community,” Mayor Ken Bradley said. “You don’t have to live near a train track to hear the trains. I probably live as far from the train tracks as anybody in this city and on the nights we have our windows open, you hear them every night.”
“Now that we have a mechanism to potentially do it ourselves and a way to do it, it’s an exciting opportunity and it’s in our lap now.”
City Commissioners have pursued funding for a quiet zone project for the past eight years, City Manager Randy Knight said. An idea of a partnership with Maitland and Orlando to earn federal funding sprang up in the City Commission chamber back in August 2012, but never came to fruition.
The awaited quiet zone project would not only make the area more livable, but much safer, Commissioner Steve Leary said.
“I wish they called them ‘safety zones’ rather than ‘quiet zones,’” Leary said. “I’ve seen cars coming up at intersections and get caught on the other side of the [railroad] gates. This kind of thing helps prevent that.”
Winter Park’s residents have heard passing train whistles go by since the original Orlando-Winter Park Railroad opened in 1889, just two years after the original chartering of the city. The “Dinky Line” – as Rollins College students called it – carried passengers between the two cities for decades until it was shut down in 1969.
The new quiet zones would be a natural evolution in the city’s history, Bradley said.
“I think it would be a continuation of the city’s position,” Bradley said. “Winter Park was founded around a train station. The train moving forward will obviously be a very important thing for those who come to our city and our residents.”
“The creation of quiet zones will do nothing but make our city a better place.”
The city will immediately begin searching for an architect for the project, which should be completed by early 2015, Knight said.