At least one Winter Park neighborhood hopes to see light at the end of the tunnel in the midst of blaring train horns keeping them awake at night.
Winter Park resident Jeff Adams said it varies how bad it gets. On some nights, he doesn’t hear the horn at all, but other times — like a few weeks ago — it wakes him up four separate times in one night.
“I was woken up at a quarter to 12; I was woken up at a quarter to 2, around 2:30; and then shortly before 4,” said Adams, who lives along North Park Avenue just two blocks north of where the tracks cross Denning Drive. “Four times in one night, I was woken up by not just a train horn — but literally blaring all the way through. It must have been 11 or 12 seconds of full blast coming through the intersection at Denning Drive.”
Adams said it’s the CSX freight trains that pass through the city that are responsible. The late-night horns seemed to roughly coincide with the launch of SunRail back in 2014, he said, causing him to believe that the hours of the CSX trains may have been pushed later into the night as a result.
“We knew there was a railroad when we moved in; we knew that there were train horns when we moved in,” Adams said. “We knew the SunRail development was happening and we take absolutely no issue with that. The problem is the disruption and the nuisance of particular horns late at night and early in the morning.
“It seems like when the schedule was adjusted for them to come through later in the evening and at night, they didn’t realize that they are passing residential neighborhoods the entire way through Winter Park and Maitland,” he said.
Adams has reached out to CSX, but has heard nothing back.
However, CSX officials said the conductors obey the laws set in place regarding train horns, though they did confirm that their trains are running later in the evening because of SunRail’s launch.
“Since SunRail began passenger rail service in Central Florida on May 2014, CSX trains have been operating during designated freight windows when passenger trains are not present, including during the overnight hours,” said Rob Doolittle, Assistant Vice President for media and communications at CSX. “While CSX works to minimize the impact of our operations on local communities, we must also prioritize the safety of people in those communities and our employees.
“Train horns are an important tool in alerting drivers and pedestrians about approaching trains, which cannot stop quickly, and CSX engineers blow train horns for two important reasons: they save lives, and it is required by law,” he said. “The Federal Railroad Administration requires engineers to blow train horns at crossings and at other designated times and locations, regardless of the time of day. Train engineers may also use their discretion to blow the horn for safety reasons, such as when a person or vehicle is on or near the tracks.”
The solution to the problem still may take a while. For the past few years Winter Park has been in pursuit of establishing quiet zones — stretches of railroad track with no requirement to blare the horn due to added safety measures at railroad crossings. Winter Park Director of Communications Clarissa Howard said an agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation to add safety measures at crossings in Winter Park, Orlando and Maitland has been executed, but that construction won’t be finished until December 2019. The ongoing parts of the project include completing design plans, gathering materials, supply and delivery, and the wiring of Central Florida Rail Corridor signal houses.
The $2.3 million project — 29% funded by the city and 71% by FDOT — will add safety measures to all 16 street grade crossings in Winter Park, qualifying them as quiet zones.
Resident Marni Carey, who lives off Hamilton Place Court just a minute walk away from the Denning Drive railroad crossing, said she and her husband bought their home two years ago with the understanding that a quiet zone would be implemented.
The city hasn’t followed through on the project and the horns still blare, she said.
“The horns just go and go and go,” she said “It’s annoying. I just keep hoping, in my stupid optimism, thinking this is going to happen.”
Resident Michelle Sanderson said it’s not the lack of quiet zones that’s the issue but rather the conductor laying on the horn. She’s lived along Denning Drive near the tracks for 15 years and has noticed the horns getting louder and going off later in the evening over the past few years.
Sanderson brought her concerns to the city not long ago, but the horns only became worse, she said.
“It seems that now when he comes through, he basically lays on the horn from Maitland all the way through Winter Park,” Sanderson said. “It’s so loud that it literally vibrates the house sometimes. Obviously, nobody is doing anything about this particular person who is, as far as I’m concerned, terrorizing the neighborhood,” she said.