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City of Willmar awaits approvals for railroad quiet zone

A delivery truck approaches the railroad crossing on Trott Avenue Southwest in Willmar, driving along the center median recently installed between the lanes of traffic to prevent vehicles from driving around the crossing arms when a train is approaching. The median is one of the steps taken to establish a quiet zone where train horns are not required. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR — The median is constructed, new crossing arms are installed and the “no train horn’’ signs are erected at Willmar’s Trott Avenue Southwest railroad crossing quiet zone. But the train horns are still sounding.


The horns won’t be silenced until a certification and approval process involving the Federal Railroad Administration, Minnesota Department of Transportation and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is completed, explains Bruce Peterson, city planning director and interim public works director.

Peterson says the city has been receiving calls from the public wondering why the quiet zone is not functioning as a quiet zone. He said the city is not in control of the process. Once that process is completed, the crossing can actually function as a quiet zone, he says.

Peterson said the city knew that establishing the quiet zone, which was a Willmar City Council priority, was a very involved process.

“We knew that it was more than just building it, putting up a sign and having it be quiet,’’ he said. “There’s a lot at stake here with public safety and that’s why the process is very deliberate.’’

It starts with analyzing the crossing to see if it’s possible to create the quiet zone, then paperwork is filed with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration to initiate the process.

Those agencies offer guidelines for the construction and function of the quiet zone. A local engineering firm, Bollig Inc., was hired by the city to do the design and issue the call for construction bids.

The cost, including engineering, was about $361,000, with the city paying $128,000 and the state paying about $233,000. Bollig designed the curb, the median, the striping and the signs.

A quiet zone is designed with a median to prevent vehicles from driving around the crossing arms when a train is approaching. With those safety measures in place, a train is allowed to withhold sounding the horn.

Peterson said a notice of intent to create the quiet zone was sent to the railroad, MnDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration, followed by a 60-day review period. Once the review process was completed, the project was constructed as designed and was approved by the parties.

After construction, MnDOT, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Bollig met to look at the construction to ensure all elements were built according to plans and were operating correctly.

Peterson said Bollig, which represents the city on this issue, is waiting for BNSF and the state Department of Transportation to update the quiet zone inventory and to complete a certificate of completion.

“Once the city receives that certificate of completion, which we anticipate receiving very soon, a notice of establishment goes out to all the entities by federal law, and there is a 21-day comment period that takes place,’’ he said.

BNSF responds and the railroad then sets the final date when the crossing becomes a functioning quiet zone, he said.

“You have to satisfy the railroad. They are the ones that own and maintain the crossings. They are the ones that carry the liability,’’ said Peterson. “Until they have determined when they agree to have the quiet zone be functional, it will not function as a quiet zone. Nothing has really changed at that crossing except that it has been reconstructed to meet quiet zone standards.’’

Peterson says the city appreciates the patience that people have shown and asks that they bear with the city as the process is brought to conclusion.

“We’re doing whatever we can to move it as quickly as possible,’’ he said. “I know our consulting engineers are doing whatever they can to move it along as quickly as possible. It’ll just be a great day when you no longer hear the horn noises there.’’

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150