Mayor hopeful for ‘quiet zone’ designation this year

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Elk River Mayor John Dietz hopes that some time this year, Elk River will become a “quiet zone” where trains don’t have to blow their horns.

That drew a round of applause from people attending an Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce event on Jan. 10.

Quiet zones were one of several topics Dietz and Council Members Paul Motin and Stewart Wilson were asked about during the “Talking Business with the Elk River City Council” event. Michelle Anderson, chair of the chamber’s government relations committee, led the questioning.

A wayside horn was tested in Elk River last February. Star News file photo
A wayside horn was tested in Elk River last February. Star News file photo

On the issue of quiet zones, Dietz told the gathering that he had asked the city to take another look at it about two years ago.

The city brought in a Texas firm, Quiet Zone Technologies, which tested wayside horns at crossings in Elk River. Wayside horns are a quieter alternative to train horns. They are located at crossings and directed at vehicles so trains don’t have to sound their horns.

Dietz said the results of that testing were favorable.

The city then hired a consultant to help the city do a plan. The plan showed that what is needed for Elk River to become a citywide quiet zone is to put in two wayside horns at the Proctor Avenue crossing (one facing north and one facing south), install medians at the 165th Avenue and the Jarvis Street crossings and do some minor improvements at the 171st Avenue crossing where medians are already in place.

This package will be presented to Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Federal Railroad Administration on Jan. 29.

“Based on their review, they may require additional modifications, but this is what we are proposing,” City Engineer Justin Femrite told the Star News this week.

Total cost is estimated at $400,000. That compares to $5 million to make quiet zone improvements to all the railroad crossings in Elk River, which was what initially appeared to be the only option.

Ultimately, the quiet zone measures will be brought back to the City Council for consideration and, Dietz said, “Hopefully by sometime this year, Elk River will be a quiet zone.”

Fifty-nine trains go through Elk River per day, he said. A citywide quiet zone would eliminate the need for them to blow their horns, except in the case of Northstar Commuter Rail. Those trains would still sound a horn when leaving the station at 171st Avenue, Council Member Motin said.

On other topics, the mayor and council members were asked about stormwater regulations. Elk River is looking at a cost of about $500,000 a year to meet new stormwater regulations. City officials said they need to figure out a funding source.

Among the other topics discussed were the county fairgrounds in Elk River, an update to the city’s comprehensive plan that is currently underway, the need for a large venue for events, and parks and trails issues.