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Downtown Tampa quiet zone silences train horns with FDOT grant funds

Downtown Tampa and Channelside residents will rest a little easier in coming months, thanks to a $1.35 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Trains travel through Tampa on a daily basis, and their horns “are a nuisance,” says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Train horns are sounded in compliance with federal rules and regulations, which require a train to blast its horn for 15 to 20 seconds at any public crossing. As a result, the loud but legally mandatory horns are “bouncing off the buildings throughout downtown, bothering residents and impacting our economic opportunity as our urban core continues to densify," Buckhorn says.

In fact, the sound of train horns in downtown Tampa has been such a sore subject among residents that some have turned to a Facebook page, called “Help Tampa Sleep,'' to address the topic in a public forum.

Back in August 2014, the city contracted King Engineering Associates to study the development of a “quiet zone” in downtown Tampa.

Buckhorn’s staff reached out to the FDOT to seek information about quiet zones after learning that Florida Gov. Rick Scott was to include quiet zone funding in the state budget. The funds, awarded to the City of Tampa through FDOT’s Quiet Zone Grant program, will be used to create the “quiet zone” along CSX railroad tracks throughout downtown Tampa -- meaning trains will no longer blare their horns in the middle of the night as they pass through town.   

State funding will not cover the entire cost of creating a “quiet zone” in the middle of downtown Tampa -- the anticipated cost for the projects is $2.7 million. FDOT grants will provide up to half the cost of creating quiet zones. The projected improvements are expected to begin in summer 2015.

To silence train horns in downtown Tampa, the City of Tampa must meet “quiet zone” safety requirements established by the Federal Railroad Administration. The project will include the upgrade of nine public highway-rail crossings through downtown Tampa -- from North Jefferson Street to Doyle Carlton Drive -- with additional gating, street medians and signage. 

“Downtown residents and businesses can coexist with the trains, and a quiet zone allows us to strike that balance,” Buckhorn says.

Some citizens are concerned with the solution, however. Gasparilla Interactive Festival Executive Director Vinny Tafuro, a downtown resident, says that he is "hopeful that the project successfully quiets the horns," but is also "concerned with the aesthetics of how the crossings will look, and the reality of the CSX engineers actually following the guidelines and not blowing the horns."

"As a fan of innovative technology, I would prefer a long-term solution that improved on a loud horn as a warning," Tafuro says. "Seems archaic."

In fact, the Train Quiet Zone rules do stipulate that a train horn may be blown in a "quiet zone" during emergency situations.

To view the grant application and award, please visit the City of Tampa’s website or click here. To learn more about the Train Horn Rule as well as Train Quiet Zones, visit the Federal Railroad Administration's website.

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer and editor for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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