City to pursue railroad crossing 'quiet zones'

WILLMAR -- The city is interested in the concept of establishing "quiet zones'' where trains would be prohibited from blowing the whistle at local railroad crossings, the Willmar City Council has decided.

WILLMAR -- The city is interested in the concept of establishing "quiet zones'' where trains would be prohibited from blowing the whistle at local railroad crossings, the Willmar City Council has decided.

The council voted Monday night to pursue the quiet zone concept and to get information from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway about conducting a study of risk factors and safety requirements needed at crossings where whistles aren't used.

The quiet zone concept is being promoted by two property owners who live near the railroad. Joe Ulferts and Terry Spieker discussed the concept on Jan. 26 with the council's Community Development Committee, and the committee voted to recommend the concept to the council.

Committee member Cindy Swenson reported that the issue of train noise has increased in several neighborhoods due to the increase in train traffic. Thirty-five or more trains per day pass through town.

Quiet zones are allowed by the Federal Railroad Administration if certain safety measures are taken. A BNSF representative told the committee in January that the city would be required to perform the risk assessment at city expense. After the assessment is completed, a plan would be needed to minimize the risk of collisions between vehicles and trains.


The committee discussed the concept of a loop west of Willmar that would connect BNSF's southwest line and northwest line, thereby eliminating the need for trains to enter the Willmar yard to switch engines around.

BNSF Twin Cities Division Terminal Manager Jan Ruby of Willmar had told the committee that the loop would keep a significant number of trains out of Willmar, but the project was not on the railroad's near-future plans.

Council member Denis Anderson said the council should continue to push for state bonding money to construct the western loop.

"That would really help the north side residents if we could reduce substantially the number of trains coming through town,'' he said, just as a train whistle sounded. "We're hearing the whistle now. They switch and go back out again. You get them twice, so I think we need to really push on that with Sen. (Dean) Johnson and Rep. (Al) Juhnke.''

Mayor Les Heitke said Willmar's railroad yard is the second busiest in Minnesota. "We have 17 tracks, and I'm told we average 27 trains a day. It's a very active yard. The railroad brought the development here 136 years ago. It's the reason Willmar was founded.''

City OKs preliminary 2006 street report

In other business Monday, the council approved the proposed improvement report for construction of new streets, reconstruction of worn-out streets, overlays, street lights and miscellaneous work in 2006.

The council will take public comments about the preliminary report at 7 p.m. Feb. 21. The hearing and the report were recommended by the Public Works/Safety Committee.


The report estimates the improvements will cost $7,435,000, of which the city's share is about $1,990,000. Other costs are paid by developers, assessments against property owners, interest from the community investment fund, state aid, local option sales tax and other sources.

This year's improvements include construction of streets in new residential and business developments; reconstruction of streets in the southwest and northwest areas; several street overlays; and an overlay on Business 71 from the north end of the bridge to Ella Avenue and from Civic Center Drive to 26th Avenue Northeast.

Street lighting is included for the new developments and along County Road 5 for path lighting from Eighth Avenue Northwest to Collegeview.

Also planned are a signal system at Fifth Street Southeast and 19th Avenue Southeast, an apron extension at the airport, and construction of walk paths funded by the local option sales tax.

"This is the largest street project that we've ever done,'' said Heitke.

The council also:

- Appointed Hibo Ashau to the Community Education and Recreation Advisory Board. She is a cultural liaison, interpreter and translator with West Central Integration Collaborative and Coalition of African Community Services.

- Received a report from Loudi Rivamonte from the Center for Cross-Cultural Health and Scott Antilla of Harmony Works on the highlights of the Skills to Action Program.


- Approved a Fire Department training burn at 621 Sixth St. S.W.

- Voted to hold a public hearing Feb. 21 on the proposed annual 6.35 percent city sewer rate increase.

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