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Train quiet zones could be on track in Perham

Loud and long whistle and horn blasts from trains passing through Perham could be things of the past if a quiet zone for train whistles gains final approval in the city.

Richard Lane, of SRF Consulting Group in Fargo, ND, explained the process of establishing a possible quiet zone in Perham to a large audience at the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce "Power Hour" Tuesday.

Lane said many other communities have found solutions for their long standing train noise problems by instituting quiet zones, but he said there are costs associated with the matter and "it can be costly" depending on what the final plan for the quiet zone calls for as far as equipment and related construction or street work.

Federal regulations according to Lane, allow communities to establish quiet zones by reducing the risk caused by the lack of horns through engineering and non-engineering solutions.

In place of the sounding of the horns and whistles by trains passing through city crossings, specified and approved supplemental safety measures can be put into place.

The supplemental safety measures could include the closure of some streets at the railroad crossings, the installation of four gates instead of two at crossings, the creation of one-way streets with gates across the full width of the street, channelization with gates and medians with gates.

Lane said an assessment is conducted of the crossings in the community to determine what impact there would be in not allowing horns and whistles to sound, but instead be replaced by supplemental safety measures.

Lane said communities must also decide very early in the process if they really want to have designated quiet zones.

"They have to understand that if they do agree to have quiet zones there could be changes such as closing off some street crossings, installing medians or making some streets one-way streets," said Lane.

Lane said it was way too early to give an estimate of the cost for Perham to establish a quiet zone.

"It could range anywhere from a half-million dollars to $750,000," said Lane. "It depends on what measures you decide to undertake. For example, installing four quadrant gates at one crossing alone could cost as much as $300,000, but that's very preliminary."

"We try to establish a quiet zone at the lowest reasonable cost with the highest level of safety."

Lane also emphasized to his audience that the establishment of quiet zones does not impact the speed at which trains travel through the community.

"It's estimated the trains travel through here at times at about 60 miles-per-hour and the tracks are rated for speeds up to 75 miles-per hour," said Lane.

According to Lane, there is little chance of finding some kind of outside funding to help pay for the costs of establishing the quiet zones.

"There are some railroads that provide funds, but for the most part the expense would have to be covered by the local government," Lane said.

The possible Perham quiet zone could extend from Highway 51 to the edge of the city's industrial park.

Lane said the next step for the quiet zone proposal to take to become a reality would be for the city to hire someone to conduct a safety survey along the rail corridor.

"That could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000," said Lane.

According to Lane, his company has worked with officials in Fargo, Staples and Detroit Lakes in efforts to establish their own quiet zones.

Photo by Joe VanDeLaarschot/FOCUS