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The cost of quiet; Perham's Quiet Zone would start at $470K

What would it take to silence those loud trains that so often blow through town?

Anywhere from $470,000 to $2.3 million, according to a preliminary engineer's report.

The early results of a Quiet Zone Assessment are in, and they show that Perham could make its railroad crossings quieter - and a lot safer - without having to close any intersections.

A final report on the assessment has not been submitted yet, but Rick Lane, of SRF Consulting Group out of Fargo, briefed the Perham City Council on the findings at a meeting last week.

Councilors hired SRF last August to conduct the assessment, in order to find out what it would take to reduce train horn noise and improve safety at railroad crossings throughout town. Rules established by the Federal Railroad Administration in 2005 lay out what the city would need to do to accomplish these goals.

SRF has worked with many other cities to help implement quiet zones, and Lane said the general result has been not only quieter communities, but also fewer accidents and injuries at railroad crossings.

The firm worked on the Perham assessment with representatives from the city, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, BNSF Railway Company and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). They evaluated what would be needed at eight crossings through town, from the crossing at 450th Ave. on the southeast side of town, throughout the whole downtown area and ending at 425th Ave. on the northwest side.

In the end, SRF came up with three possible scenarios for improvements. While each scenario meets minimum Quiet Zone safety requirements, their costs vary depending on the level of improvements at each crossing.

Basically, the safer the crossing, the higher the cost.

The city could choose to move forward with one of the three options, or a mix of them.

Councilors have said in the past that they would let residents make any major decisions on the matter - starting with whether or not to create a Quiet Zone at all.

Lane said he would be returning to a future council meeting to present a final report on SRF's Quiet Zone Assessment, complete with drawings and other informational materials.

After that, it's likely the decision will be put into public hands.

SRF's suggested scenarios

-The "low cost" option.

This option calls for improvements to seven of the eight crossings (one of the crossings is private, and thus does not require any attention from the city).

Most of the crossings would cost about $50,000-$60,000 each to upgrade, with the exception of the crossing at 6th Ave. NW, which would cost an estimated $155,000 due to some roadway realignment and other modifications.

There would also be a driveway closure with this option, near the 2nd Ave. N crossing, which could impact accessibility into the parking area behind City Hall. This crossing is considered the highest-risk crossing in town.

All of the seven crossings would need medians added to reduce safety risk.

Lane said this scenario would bring the city's railroad crossing risk level down just low enough to be able to qualify as a Quiet Zone. If any accidents were to occur at any of the crossings in the future, additional improvements may be needed at that time.

-The second scenario is the "high safety" option, and also comes at the highest cost, of a little more than $2.3 million plus ongoing maintenance expenses.

This option comes with a price tag of as much as $700,000 for one crossing, to add extra safety measures like 4-quad gates with vehicle detection.

Like the first scenario, it calls for improvements to seven of the eight total crossings (with the private crossing again left out).

This option would significantly increase safety and bring the city's risk level down considerably - much more so than with either of the other two options.

-The third and final scenario is referred to by SRF as the "cost-safety hybrid."

For $905,000, the city could make some significant improvements to the highest-risk crossing at 2nd Ave. NE, as well as some basic improvements to a few other crossings, while leaving four lower-risk crossings untouched.

The end result for the city as a whole would be safer than scenario one, at a lesser cost than scenario two.

Construction costs for each scenario were estimated using a combination of prior construction experience and input from BNSF.

Crossings included in the study are: 450th Ave., 7th Ave. NE, 2nd Ave. NE, 1st Ave. NE, 6th Ave. NW, County Highway 51, 425th Ave. and a private crossing (which was ultimately left out of the assessment, as the city is not responsible for modifications to a private crossing).