Train horns silenced in Edgewood

Railroad crossing 'Quiet Zones' costly but bring peace, neighbors say

EDGEWOOD, Fla. – When Evelyn Mendoza purchased a home alongside railroad tracks nearly a decade ago, fewer freight trains rolled through her small Orange County community and SunRail commuter train service did not yet exist.

But now, as dozens of trains now pass every day, Mendoza said the sound of the trains' horns has become almost unbearable.

"It was very, very horrible sleeping at night," Mendoza told News 6. "And then I can't get back to sleep."

Starting this week, trains approaching four railroad crossings in Edgewood will no longer be required to sounds their horns with the implementation of a "Quiet Zone" through the community.

"Every winter, when people sleep with the windows open, we get calls all the time saying, 'Can you do anything about those freight train horns?'" Edgewood Mayor John Dowless said. "We knew this was a priority for citizens, so we made it a priority for the city."

To improve safety and minimize collisions with passenger vehicles, in 2005 the Federal Railroad Administration made it mandatory for engineers to blow horns when trains approach a road crossing. 

But municipalities willing to install additional safety features at railroad crossings can obtain approval from the federal government to set up Quiet Zones where trains are not required to activate horns except for emergency situations.

At the railroad crossing outside Mendoza's home, newly installed gate arms now extend almost entirely across the road to prevent motorists from driving around them while new pedestrian gates warn people on the sidewalk of an oncoming train.

Those and other infrastructure improvements required by the FHA for quiet zones cost about $260,000 per crossing, transportation officials said.

The Florida Department of Transportation covered a little more than 70 percent of the $1 million cost for the four crossings in Edgewood and the city paid for the rest, according to the mayor.

"For the city, it's probably 10% of our operating budget," Dowless said. "It's a big chunk we paid over a little bit of time."

But for homeowners like Mendoza, the absence of train horns is priceless.

"Today is like an answer to prayers," she said.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.