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RR quiet zone may yet come this year

Detroit Lakes officials hope to implement a "whistle-free zone" on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad corridor by the end of the year -- but that timeline depends on how negotiations go with the railroad and the Federal Railroad Administration.

"We're going to silence the train whistles, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from County Road 54 by Hidden Hills ... they'll start again by the Airport Road," said Detroit Lakes community Development Director Larry Remmen.

"That's a pretty good stretch," he added. "People and businesses are pretty excited about the prospect of no train horns."

The city has sent a notice of intent to establish the whistle-free zone to BNSF, the Federal Railroad Administration and MnDOT, Remmen said.

"They have 60 days to respond with comments and concerns. Then. in theory, we can put out a notice of establishment for the zone. Three weeks later, the train whistles get silenced."

There are two issues yet to be worked out:

The southern concrete median at the Washington Avenue crossing is just 48 feet long, while the minimum length required is 60 feet. The city has asked the Federal Railroad Administration to approve the shorter median as an alternative supplemental safety measure.

"We feel it's pretty likely to be approved," Remmen said.

The other issue is with the Kris Street crossing near the Sandbar. The crossing has four-quad gates that meet to block off the entire crossing. It also has an electronic vehicle detection system that opens a gate if a car is trapped on the tracks between gates.

"Perhaps someone comes along and goes past the gate and the gate ahead of them is also down," Remmen said. "The vehicle detection system raises the gate if needed."

Most people would drive through the break-away gate if necessary to avoid being hit by a train, Remmen noted, but the railroad still wants the city to assume liability for the vehicle detection system at the Kris Street crossing. It is the only crossing in Detroit Lakes that has the system.

"We're willing to take on a portion of the liability for the Kris Street crossing, but not everything, including accidents caused by the negligence on the part of the railroad," Remmen said. "Our attorney and our insurance people are talking to their attorney and their insurance people (to come to an agreement)."

The city is not being asked to assume any other liability responsibilities involving the whistle-free zone, Remmen said.

About 60 trains pass through Detroit Lakes on the twin-track BNSF railroad corridor every 24 hours, Remmen said. Each train is now required to blow its horn three times at each crossing.

From one to six Canadian Pacific trains per day pass through Detroit Lakes on the mostly single-track north-south rail corridor, and they will continue to blow their horns. It's not cost-effective to rebuild those crossings to create a whistle-free zone, Remmen said.

The BNSF crossings would have had to be rebuilt anyway as part of the Highway 10 project.

"Our hope is to have this quiet zone in place by the end of the year," Remmen said. "The reality is that the Federal Railroad Administration and BNSF are not always on the same timetable as the rest of the world, but we're doing everything we can to keep it on track."