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Perham still on track to consider Quiet Zone

Under one possible Quiet Zone scenario, this railroad crossing, at Second Ave. N.E., would be closed. It is considered the riskiest crossing in Perham. Other scenarios would leave all the city’s crossings open, but would cost more to implement. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS

A consulting group has laid out its recommendations for turning downtown Perham into a Quiet Zone, and the city may soon start making decisions about which course to take.

At a meeting of city leaders last Wednesday, Richard Lane, a representative of SRF Consulting Group of Fargo, N.D., shared three possible scenarios for creating a Quiet Zone in Perham, with the options varying greatly in both safety level and cost.

Creating a Quiet Zone would allow trains to pass through without having to blow their horns. Railroad crossings within a Quiet Zone must meet certain safety standards to make up for the loss of the horn. This usually means improvements are needed at crossings before a Quiet Zone can be established.

In Perham, eight crossings are located in the potential Quiet Zone, from 450th Avenue on the east end of town, through to 425th Avenue on the west end. Which of those crossings would need improvements, and the extent of those improvements, depends on which one of SRF’s three scenarios is being considered.

In the first scenario, there would be minimal improvements made at seven of the eight crossings (one crossing is private and needs no alteration), at an estimated cost of $640,000.

This scenario does not call for any crossing closures, but would require that some roadways and driveways be modified or closed, impacting the accessibility of some areas in town. The risk level would be reduced from what it is now, but would still be more than double the national average.

The second scenario calls for substantial improvements at all seven of the public crossings, at a cost of more than $2.5 million.

By far the safest (and most expensive) option, this scenario is the only one that would bring Perham’s Quiet Zone risk level within range of the national average, virtually assuring that the zone would be immune from any future crashes at railroad crossings.

The third scenario, the least expensive at $200,000, calls for a mix of improvements at the different crossings.

The cost and risk level of this scenario are both brought down by one controversial suggestion – closing the crossing at Second Avenue NE. This crossing has the highest risk factor in the zone. The mention of closing it generated some disapproving murmurs among the city council, but doing so would bring the cost of the Quiet Zone down significantly.

Lane presented scenarios to the city council once before, in a preliminary report released in February, but since then three additional accidents at railroad crossings have been taken into account, slightly changing the risk level as well as the improvement cost estimates.

Since last November, there has been one crash each at the Sixth Avenue, 426th Avenue, and 450th Avenue crossings.

None of the scenarios proposed last week, even the most expensive one, would bring Perham’s Quiet Zone risk factor above the national average.

Risk levels are defined in numbers. The current nationwide average risk level for highway rail crossings is 13,772. In the proposed scenarios, that number ranges from 14,316 for the most expensive option to 30,904 for scenario one. The lowest cost option, which calls for closing the Second Avenue crossing, would have a risk level of 23,928.

 Lane said these seemingly high numbers aren’t unusual for cities, as the national average includes many rural crossings, where public safety is of little concern. He said he doesn’t know of any city on a railway line that falls below that national average.

Being around 30,000 “is a good number,” Lane said. “I wouldn’t say that you’re high here; I would say that for an urban setting you’re right in the area that we see with other cities.”

Perham could choose one or none of the three scenarios presented by Lane, or could blend all the possible improvement options together to create a new scenario of its own making.

Regardless of the details, the next step for the city is simply to decide whether or not to move forward with establishing a Quiet Zone at all. Most councilors seemed in favor of doing so.

Mayor Tim Meehl said there are people in town who have told him that “this has gotta be done.” He said there are open commercial buildings on Main Street, and he’s heard people are hesitant to buy them because of train noise.

“The problem seems to be getting worse,” he said. “The trains are getting louder, and I think it’s time to do something about it.”

Referring to SRF’s study, City Manager Kelcey Klemm said, “We’ve made an investment thus far in putting this together,” and recommended moving forward with filing a notice of intent with the Federal Railroad Administration. The non-binding notice would show that the city is seriously considering establishing a Quiet Zone.

“The goal of this project was to give you scenarios to look at,” said Klemm. “We knew going into it that there wasn’t going to be a magical scenario that everyone would like.”

The Quiet Zone will be talked about further at future city council meetings.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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