Willmar Avenue crossing could become railroad quiet zone

WILLMAR -- Train whistles would be banned if a quiet zone is established next year at the Willmar Avenue Southwest/Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad crossing.

WILLMAR -- Train whistles would be banned if a quiet zone is established next year at the Willmar Avenue Southwest/Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad crossing.

Establishing the Willmar Avenue quiet zone would be the first step in eliminating what some city residents say is a noisy detriment to their quality of life.

The federal government, in response to concerns raised by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) about increased collisions at railroad crossings where train locomotive horns are banned, enacted the Swift Rail Development Act in 1994.

The act mandated the secretary of transportation to issue regulations requiring the use of locomotive horns at crossings, but authorized the agency to make reasonable exceptions.

In 2005, the Federal Railroad Administration enacted rules that allow quiet zones to be established at railroad crossings provided certain safety measures are enacted.


Willmar has eight railroad crossings. The city engineering department has been moving forward with the concept of implementing quiet zones after the City Council at its 2007 planning retreat set a high priority on building a quiet zone by 2010.

The city had Railroad Controls Limited of Benbrook, Texas, evaluate Willmar's crossings last year and the consultant's December 2007 report determined appropriate safety treatments for each crossing, including the Willmar Avenue crossing.

The Willmar Avenue quiet zone would consist of 9-foot concrete center medians and new crossing gates. The concept has been approved by the railroad, and the $234,161 estimated cost would be paid by the city.

Agreements have been drafted by the railroad and are waiting for more information from the city before the agreements can be finalized and the City Council gives its approval.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said the project will be proposed in the 2009 improvement program. The work will be done by the city when Kandiyohi County reconstructs Willmar Avenue Southwest in 2009.

The engineering department is also pursing the quiet zone concept at the Seventh Street Southwest crossing, according to Mel Odens, city public works director, and Holly Wilson, assistant city engineer.

But they said implementing the Seventh Street quiet zone is more challenging because the crossing is located inside the rail yard where there's constant train and car movements and involves multiple sets of tracks, compared with the Willmar Avenue crossing, which has one set of tracks.

Their report on quiet zones was presented Tuesday afternoon to the City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee. The committee received the report as information.


Odens said the report was presented because some council members are concerned that work on quiet zones is not proceeding as fast as they would like. Odens said his department will define costs and come up with options.

"What we're going to do is continue to move forward on developing some recommendations on quiet zones,'' he said.

Odens said the cost of implementing quiet zones at all crossings could reach $1million. He suggested the council consider the possibility of spending that money on a railroad bypass west of the city instead.

The bypass would eliminate the turnaround required by trains entering Willmar on the Marshall line and heading northwest on the Morris line. BNSF operates about 15 freight trains per day on the Marshall line, 13 trains per day on the Morris line, and two trains on the Willmar-St. Cloud spur.

"When they come in (on the Marshall line), they blow the horn and when they leave they blow the horn,'' said Odens. "That's 30 trains in essence because they come in and go out.''

A bypass would cost between $2 million and $3 million. BNSF would not participate in any of the cost, according to Odens and Schmit.

In other business, the committee:

- Approved a resolution concurring with action by the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners to renumber County State Aid Highway 47 as County State Aid Highway 5. Also, the committee concurred with the county board in renumbering County State Aid Highway 5 as County State Aid Highway 55.


- Approved a $3,448 estimate from American Fence Company of Omaha to repair the west entrance gate at the new airport.

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