Sept. 11, 2006

Dassel considering asking for 'quiet zone' designation

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Trains parked on railroad crossings, blowing their whistles, have attracted the attention once again of the Dassel city council.

However, solving these problems appear to be complicated as the council looked at its options.

Train horns are required by federal law to be blown at all public crossings, Council Member Bob Wilde told the city council Tuesday.

What Dassel residents have been experiencing since this spring might be excessive, however. Residents have been jolted out of their beds at 5 a.m. by sustained window-rattling blasts from trains rolling through town. Some of the trains are standing still and yet blowing their horns anyway.

Some trains appear to be using Dassel as a switching yard, according to Myles McGrath, city administrator. Trains stretch across all crossings, blocking all north-south traffic, including emergency vehicles, up to a half-hour.

Recently council members have found a responsible person at the railroad to communicate the situation Dassel is experiencing, Wilde said. He is Steve Forsberg of Burlington Northern Railroad.

“Train crews will get much more aggressive with the horn if they see a person or animal on the track not getting out of the way, or a driver trying to beat the train to a crossing,” Forsberg said Aug. 31.

Dassel residents have options if the horn-blowing is excessive. The road foremen of engines can check locomotive event recorders for excessive use of the horn, over and above FRA requirements, Forsberg said.

Railroad operation managers will address the situations where Burlington Northern cars or trains are blocking a crossing or allowing the gates to stay down while a train is stopped, he said.

“Please feel free to relay dates and times from crossings blocked by standing trains for more than 10-15 minutes on Third and Fourth (a train moving back and forth without clearing the crossing is also accepted) and for horn blowing for more than 15 to 20 seconds for each and every crossing in town,” Forsberg said.

If the road foreman knows the date and time these events occur, he can investigate which train and crew were there.

Also, train engineers have been told to use the following horn sequence: two longs blasts, followed by one short and another long. for each and every crossing, Forsberg said.

Only crossings that have met Federal Railroad Administration, FRA, criteria for a Quiet Zone do not require the horn to be blown, according to Forsberg. The federal regulation governing horns was just changed in June 2005 and now requires trains to blow the horn 15 to 20 seconds for each and every public crossing. The rule also requires the horns to blow at a sound level of at least 92 decibels, he said.

Little Falls was declared a Quiet Zone recently, so it is possible for Dassel to also get that order, pointed out Dassel Public Works Director Dave Scepaniak.

Here are some of the requirements from the FRA web site, www.fra.dot.gov/us. for getting an order from the FRA as a Quiet Zone:

• take a USDoT grade crossing inventory.

• categorize supplemental safety measures.

• compare safety measures to FRA risk index.

• use FRA risk calculator.

• install signs at crossings.

• check records for collisions at crossings.

• submit a plan to the FRA.

• submit a timetable for safety improvements.

• do periodic updates on the above actions.

If Dassel gets a Quiet Zone, it will be a stretch of track where the FRA has issued an order to Burlington Northern that does not require the horn to be blown except in emergencies.

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