From the Martin County Board of County Commissioners: At its May 25 meeting, the Martin County Board of County Commissioners heard a presentation from County staff on various safety measures being discussed with respect to the proposed All Aboard Florida (AAF) high speed passenger rail project.
A key goal and focus of the presentation was to educate decision-makers and the public about the differences between Sealed Corridors and Quiet Zones as there has been confusing and conflicting information about these safety measures circulating in the media and the community.
“The bottom line is that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is already requiring AAF to create ‘Sealed Corridors’ along much of the rail corridor that runs through Martin County which are a more stringent safety measure than a ‘Quiet Zone’ – and AAF has to pay for those safety upgrades. ‘Quiet Zones,’ which are not necessarily quiet, can be requested at any time, but if Martin County asks for them before a ‘Sealed Corridor’ is created, then Martin County would have to pay for it,” explained Martin County Engineering Deputy Director Terry Rauth.
More about “Sealed Corridors”
A “Sealed Corridor” is an area along a rail corridor that has a higher level of safety because it is designed to “block all lanes of travel” where a roadway crosses the railroad track (also known as an at-grade crossing.) The FRA requires “Sealed Corridors” when train speeds are 80 mph or greater – which is the minimum speed of the proposed AAF passenger trains as they travel non-stop through Martin County and the Treasure Coast. In many areas, the trains will be going as fast as 110 mph.
“Sealed Corridors” use either a four quadrant gate system or a two quadrant gate with 100-foot medians to block the travel lanes. These safety measures were developed by FRA to reduce the potential for collisions and derailments at grade crossings where high speed passenger rails operate.
“Sealed Corridors” also use pedestrian treatments such as sidewalks and warning devices at grade crossings and controls between crossings (fencing) to prevent people from crossing the tracks in unauthorized locations. Additionally, “Sealed Corridors” may include a technology known as Vehicle Presence Detection which detects the presence of a vehicle stopped or stalled on the tracks and sends a signal to automatically stop or slow the approaching train.
More about “Quiet Zones”
A “Quiet Zone” is a section of rail line in which train horns are not routinely sounded when trains are approaching a rail crossing. Additional safety measures would have to be constructed before FRA would approve “Quiet Zones.” There is no deadline for requesting a “Quiet Zone.” Train horns are still sounded in emergency situations or to comply with other rules so it is not really a “quiet zone,” but more appropriately described as a “reduced horn area.” Because the absence of a horn increases the risk of a crossing collision, additional safety measures are required to mitigate the risk.
Major points of distinction are that “Sealed Corridor” safety measures are more stringent than “Quiet Zone” safety measures and AAF is required to create “Sealed Corridors” along portions of the rail line. “Quiet Zones” can be requested at any time, but if Martin County makes the request prior to the installation of “Sealed Corridor” safety measures, Martin County would have to pay for their installation.
Other safety concerns in AAF’s latest design plans
In spite of AAF’s public representations regarding the safety of its latest plans, Martin County has identified the following safety concerns that have not been addressed by the most recent designs:
* AAF did not identify safety improvements between grade crossings where people have historically travelled across the tracks;
* AAF plans include sidewalks for pedestrian at only 12 of the 27 crossings in Martin County;
* Pedestrians and motorists will have difficulty judging the time it takes for a train traveling at 110 mph to reach their location;
* AAF has not committed to all of the other available safety technologies that would make its high speed trains less likely to cause collisions, derailments, injury or death.
Additional safety requests made by Martin County to AAF
Based on the County’s review of AAF’s proposal, Martin County has requested the following additional safety improvements:
* “Sealed Corridor” treatments, even where passenger rail speeds are below 80 mph – at all 27 crossings, rather than the 18 proposed by AAF;
* Sidewalks at all 27 crossings, not just the 12 proposed by AAF;
* Fences that will prevent people who are used to travelling across the tracks at unauthorized areas;
* A technology called Remote Health Monitoring installed at all crossings to alert emergency personnel if there is a system malfunction (also recommended by FRA).
Who should pay for the cost of reducing the risk posed by AAF’s proposal?
Martin County has consistently maintained that threats to public safety are one of the most troubling aspects of the AAF project and believes AAF should install and pay for the critical safety improvements needed to make the rail corridor safer should the project move forward. AAF’s current plan is deficient in terms of including safety technologies and other features that would protect people from potential harm.
Martin County’s observations and comments regarding public safety have been validated by the FRA. The FRA has determined that original crossing plans submitted by AAF do not comply with FRA’s sealed corridor guidelines. AAF has revised its construction plans based on FRA’s concerns.
However, Martin County has continued concerns and has requested additional safety features to protect the public; including seeking more “Sealed Corridor” treatments even where train speeds are below 80 mph, sidewalks at all crossings, fences and technology upgrades.
If AAF moves forward, the known annual costs of crossing maintenance that Martin County would be obligated to pay is estimated to increase about $1 million a year by 2020 and $3 million a year by 2040. These are additional costs Martin County’s taxpayers should not be burdened with, given the project provides no benefits to local residents.