Quiet zone specialist will study train noise issue in Elk River

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

A consultant will be hired to delve deeper into the issue of how best to reduce train horn noise in Elk River.

The Elk River City Council voted 4-1 May 20 to hire a quiet zone specialist at a cost estimated from $5,000 to $10,000.

The specialist will evaluate the railroad crossings in Elk River and finalize the costs of implementing a project to quiet train horns.

While the council hasn’t decided whether to proceed with some sort of quiet zone project, there is interest in researching the matter further.

“I think it’s a big enough issue for the city,” Council Member Matt Westgaard said, noting that residents have been quite vocal about wanting relief from the noise of train horns.

Dan Belair of the city of Elk River’s engineering division held a decibel meter outside Martie’s Farm Service, located near the Jackson Avenue railroad crossing, during a wayside horn test in February. Behind him are City Engineer Justin Femrite and Street Superintendent Mark Thompson. Star News file photo

Dan Belair of the city of Elk River’s engineering division held a decibel meter outside Martie’s Farm Service, located near the Jackson Avenue railroad crossing, during a wayside horn test in February. Behind him are City Engineer Justin Femrite and Street Superintendent Mark Thompson. Star News file photo

The council had earlier directed its staff to take a closer look at the train horn issue. In February, Robert Albritton of Quiet Zone Technologies in Texas visited Elk River and the city tested the company’s wayside horns at six crossings — Main, Jackson, Proctor, Meadowvale, Ogden and Zebulon.

Wayside horns are mounted on poles at railroad crossings and directed at vehicles on the road so locomotives don’t have to sound their horns at the crossing.

City Engineer Justin Femrite said tests of the wayside horns were extremely positive in some areas in the amount of noise reduction. In other areas, Femrite said he had a few concerns.

“In general, I had a real positive feeling towards that (wayside horns) as an option,” he told the council this week.

Videos and more information about wayside horns and the tests in Elk River are available on the city’s website at www.elkrivermn.gov under Engineering, Projects and 2013 Train Horn Noise Mitigation. A blog has also been set up on the city’s website where people can comment.

The wayside horns cost about $125,000 per crossing, which is much less than other quiet zone options the City Council has studied over the years.

A study done in 2007 determined that it would cost $4.5 million to add safety enhancements to the 10 railroad crossings in Elk River so trains would no longer have to blow their horns. That study was reviewed again in 2011, but both times the cost was a deterrent and nothing moved forward. The cost of that plan is now estimated at $5 to $5.5 million.

Meanwhile, Femrite said another option that has recently surfaced is something called Qwick Kurb. It is a curb that can be mounted on the centerline of an existing street that qualifies as a supplemental safety measure — something necessary for a crossing to be a railroad quiet zone where locomotive horns are not routinely sounded. Femrite said that may be an alternative at some crossings and would be cheaper than wayside horns.

Four of the five council members supported hiring a consultant to flesh out the options for reducing train noise in Elk River.

Council Member Paul Motin was against it.

He lives in a development near the railroad tracks and said the train noise doesn’t bother him a whole lot. He said he also hears train horns at his office, but it doesn’t disrupt his work or affect his business. Motin said he doesn’t see the benefit of spending $5,000 to $10,000 on a consultant when train horns are probably a “non-issue” for 95 percent of the people in town.

Other council members, however, wanted to hire the specialist and get more information.

Council Member Stewart Wilson said there seems to be a lot of community interest the City Council addressing the train horn issue. He supports at least exploring the possibility by gathering more information to see if there is a reasonable option at a reasonable cost.

Council Member Barb Burandt and Mayor John Dietz agreed.

Dietz said he realizes that in one sense trains put Elk River on the map because there was a train station and the city built up around it.

But more trains travel through Elk River now, he said, and people are looking for the City Council to find them some relief.

“I think anything we can do at a reasonable cost to improve the quality of life … is significant for a lot of our residents,” Dietz said.

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