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City Council learns some train crews not familiar with quiet zone

WILLMAR — Some BNSF Railway train crews are apparently not being told that the city has established a quiet zone at the Trott Avenue Southwest crossing, the Willmar City Council learned Monday night.

Council member Ron Christianson said under old business that quiet zone signs have been placed about a quarter of a mile on either side of the Trott Avenue crossing.

But he said the trains are not obeying the quiet zone. Christianson said he has received maybe 10 calls in the last week from residents and he asked if there was a reason why the horns are still sounding.

Interim Public Works Director Bruce Peterson said Christianson was correct. He said the quiet zone is formally established and the signs are up.

“The people I’ve spoken to at BNSF have indicated that it’s a matter of train crews becoming familiar with the crossing and its new status,’’ Peterson said. “It may still take a little time for all of the crews that utilize that crossing to learn and remember that it is a quiet zone crossing. That’s the best explanation I can offer.’’

Christianson said he has spoken to an engineer and said crews are handed a sheet of paper with any quiet zones ahead when they go out on their runs. Christianson said the engineer he spoke to said that it hasn’t been on any of his sheets that tell him where the quiet zones are.

Christianson asked Peterson to talk to the train master and see if something could be done.

“It’s quite annoying when you’ve got a quiet zone and there’s people that expect it to be quiet,’’ he said. “I told them last year it would be done by August and it’s November.’’

Peterson said he would attempt to make contact with the train master.

“My guess still is that BNSF is not very prompt in getting this word out to their crews, supplying them with the information they need to effectively deal with our quiet zone,’’ he said.

The issue of the Trott Avenue Southwest quiet zone was also raised at the council meeting two weeks ago when a resident in the southwest part of the city said he had heard complaints from other residents about trains continuing to sound the horn at the crossing.

Christianson also asked for an update on the Willmar Avenue Southwest quiet zone near the Jennie-O Turkey Store plant. He asked if the quiet zone will not be in effect until next year.

Peterson said Christianson was correct. He said BNSF was unable to come up with the necessary equipment and product to finish the crossing late this fall.

Construction of the quiet zone is tied to reconstruction and reconfiguration of the Willmar Avenue Southwest intersection with Industrial Drive Southwest (former State Highway 40).

Peterson said Willmar Avenue is constructed from old Highway 40 to the tracks. But the section on the other side was intentionally left unconstructed so as not to create any confusion with motorists this fall and winter, he said.

“We want to make sure that safety is the primary concern out there, so that project will not be completed until next spring,’’ he said.

 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.

The Trott Avenue quiet zone was constructed this year and the horns are supposed to be silenced under a certification and approval process involving the Federal Railroad Administration, Minnesota Department of Transportation and BNSF.

In other business, the council received a report from Labor Relations Committee Chair Steve Ahmann on training provided Nov. 4 by City Attorney Robert Scott on proper best practices and standards for hiring and interviewing city department heads.

Council members had earlier indicated that they wanted a council member to sit on interview committees for city department heads. On Oct. 21, the council voted to require that all Labor Committee members receive training on basic legal standards and requirements for conducting interviews and that the training be optional for other council members.

According to the League of Minnesota Cities Human Resource Reference Manual, interviewing is a skill that can be learned, but it takes preparation and practice. The League says it is critical for anyone conducting interviews on behalf of the city be trained in advance on interviewing and general legal requirements.

The city should ask only questions related to the position’s duties. As a general rule, any questions related to the applicant’s personal life or any protected status should not be asked.

Scott said the process for conducting interviews includes a number of applicable laws. The League recommends interview questions should be job-related on past work experience, skills and abilities; be consistent from candidate to candidate; and avoid questions not related to the job, such as family and  children, daycare requirements, marital status and religion.

Scott noted the need to establish an interview panel with different expertise, social backgrounds and level of management. If a quorum of City Council members is present, which is 5 members, the interview must be open, he said.

Scott said that data practices generally place applicant data as private data. Certain data are public after the top selections are made. He said interview notes must be maintained in the application file.

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