1. Opinion

Ruth: Downtown Tampa's train problem

Published Jun. 19, 2014

You get a sense that downtown Tampa is emerging as a vibrant urban environment when people start to gripe about all the noise keeping them awake at night.

For decades the city center has been dissected by various railroad lines where trains are required by federal law to blare their horns as they cross street intersections.

It never used to be a problem since hardly anyone lived downtown. Indeed, the only real threat to a passing train was the prospect of a tumbleweed getting caught up in the machinery.

But things have changed and now thousands of people call downtown Tampa home, populating tony addresses like Skypoint and the Element while plans call for even more high-rises to dot the landscape.

That is certainly a good thing and a positive commentary on Tampa's appeal to a young, urban clientele. But there is an issue.

It seems some of these urban pioneers have gotten their Crocs in a wad over the presence of CSX train horns intruding upon their beauty sleep. Later on you'll read what Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn thinks of all this and what he intends to do about easing the slumber woes of his constituents.

But for starters here's some advice for the tossing and turning Gen X-ers or Millennials, or whatever they're called, kvetching about the CSX train horns: Shut up.

What? You didn't notice when you moved into your slice of downtown Tampa heaven that there was all manner of train tracks crisscrossing the city? What did you think they were there for? To move the Gasparilla Krewe from one bar to the next once a year?

This is a bit like buying a house on a golf course and then complaining when people hit errant balls into your yard.

If you are a New Yorker, or a Chicagoan, who has lived in Manhattan or the Loop, where the night is constantly interrupted by blaring car horns, the rattle of subway cars, really, really bad street-corner sax players, over-served revelers and, perhaps, the occasional gunshot, the idea of a few train horns would seem like a downright lullaby.

It's possible, were Skypoint or the Element located in upper Ruskin, these same people would be grousing about crowing roosters disrupting their sleep patterns.

There are always pros and cons to any residential setting. Living in downtown Tampa affords residents walkable access to trendy restaurants and bars, a growing arts scene and open park spaces all without having to cruise around looking for a parking spot. And then there are the late-night train horns.

Buckhorn, ever the savvy pol, expressed great concern over the inconveniences suffered by downtown residents and mused it might be possible to get some funding to create quiet zone buffers by including crossing gates and other traffic controls to reduce the horns.

That's very nice. And very expensive, too.

Buckhorn added that perhaps a city with a Democratic mayor might be able to persuade a Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott to set aside a piece of $10 million budgeted for quiet zones along the east coast corridor of the All Aboard Florida rail project.

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Translation: Sounds swell. Not going to happen.

As for Tampa's tranquil, nocturnal atmosphere, that train left the station long ago.