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Tampa gets an earful about train horns downtown

TAMPA — Steven Nordquist is the kind of guy Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants to see living in downtown Tampa.

He's young (37), owns his own business and wants to live in a "happening, growing community." That's why he moved from Clearwater to the Skypoint tower in October.

Now Nordquist plans to leave.

The reason: CSX train horns disrupt his sleep in the wee hours.

"It's indescribable," said Nord­quist, who intends to vacate his 16th-floor unit as soon as his lease expires. "I've tried earplugs. I've tried putting earphones on — noise-canceling earphones. Try sleeping with those on. Nothing helps. The whole building starts to rattle."

He's not alone.

"It is one of the most talked-about annoyances in our neighborhood," said Michelle Buckley, 32, a five-year Skypoint resident and the president of the Uptown Council, a neighborhood association for downtown residents.

CSX railroad executives say their engineers aren't blasting their horns for fun — or spite.

"The sounding of train horns is a requirement set by the federal government," CSX Florida vice president Bob O'Malley wrote to Buckhorn after local officials complained this spring.

Federal rules require engineers to sound the horns 15 to 20 seconds before they reach a public crossing.

O'Malley told the city he had notified his operations team to make sure CSX train horns stay within federal sound limits of 96 to 110 decibels.

Otherwise, he said the city might want to create a "quiet zone," an area where engineers don't have to sound their horns, by adding gates, traffic controls or other safety measures to crossings.

City Hall is considering it, but the federal application process isn't simple, and the cost, an estimated $56,000 to $285,000 per crossing, would have to be paid for at the local level.

"We're looking at our options," Buckhorn said. "It requires a lot of funding. … I'd love to be able to find a way to do something, but I'm not sure how we get it done."

He does have one hope.

This week, Buckhorn read that Gov. Rick Scott not only supports the controversial All Aboard Florida passenger rail project on Florida's east coast but has agreed to include $10 million for quiet zones in the state budget.

In response, Buckhorn asked his staff to find out whether the money for quiet zones would be available outside the area to be served by All Aboard Florida.

By the end of the week, city officials said they believed the quiet zone money could be used statewide, but they were still talking to the Florida Department of Transportation, which is expected to administer the grant program, and were looking to see when grant guidelines would be released.

"If it's available statewide we need to get in the queue to try and access it," Buckhorn said.

And if not?

"Then I'm not sure what we're going to do," he said, "because it's an expensive fix."

Richard Danielson can be reached at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

Tampa gets an earful about train horns downtown 06/13/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2014 11:14pm]

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