May 1, 2014

Engineers recommend the City of Carroll close its Maple Street railroad crossing as part of efforts to reduce train horn noise.

Neil Guess of Bolton & Menk Inc. presented the Carroll City Council with five scenarios to establish a quiet zone. The installation of safety measures in each scenario - four of which include the closure of the Maple Street crossing - ranges in total cost from roughly $370,000 to $480,000.

The council has been investigating the possibility of implementing a quiet zone to increase the quality of life in Carroll and decrease the disruptions to daily business, said Mayor Adam Schweers, who has received multiple calls from residents seeking reduction of train horn noise.

Approximately 70 trains travel through Carroll each day. Even if this number is reduced as trains get longer, at 50 trains per day and seven crossings in town, Carroll residents hear 127,750 horns per year, he added.

Federal regulation requires locomotive horns to begin sounding 15-20 seconds before entering public crossings. In a quiet zone, horns should only be sounded in emergency situations, though locomotive bells may still be used at crossings.

In order to establish a quiet zone, safety measures - ranging from the roughly $50,000 pouring of raised medians to the approximately $500,000 installation of four quadrant gates - must be introduced at each railroad crossing to reduce the risk factor from where it currently stands with train horns serving as a warning. The proposed quiet zone would stretch about 3 miles from Bella Vista Road on the east side of Carroll to Burgess Avenue on the west.

All five scenarios include the pouring of an 8-inch tall, 2-foot-wide raised median 60 to 100 feet down the center of the street on each side of the railroad crossing on Bella Vista Road, North Clark Street and North Carroll Street. The median would run 100 feet unless it blocked another road, in which case it would run 60 feet, such as on the north side of the tracks crossing North Clark Street.

The installation of medians at the Bella Vista Road crossing would require the road to be widened 10 feet and would cost about $99,000.

This installation at North Clark Street would require Fourth Street to be moved north, costing about $58,000 total. Midwest Wholesale would also have to relocate its entrance.

On North Carroll Street, the median would run 100 feet south and 60 feet north, so as not to restrict traffic on Fourth Street, at a cost of about $40,000. A commercial driveway on the west side of the street would need to be relocated.

In all scenarios, the engineers recommended that the Grant Road crossing remain open, due to Farmland's close proximity to the tracks. Minimum safety measures would be installed, including a 30-foot median to the north and an 80-foot median to the south, costing about $29,000.

At Maple Street, a median could be installed 100 feet each direction from the tracks, but due to its low traffic load - fewer than 500 vehicles per day - the engineers recommended closing that crossing and installing a turnaround. The cost of medians would be about $82,000, while closing the crossing would be about $42,000. Installation of medians would also require the driveway north of Farmland to be closed. Or the city could convert the road to a dead end, which would close the intersection and reduce the cost of adding a turnaround, Guess added.

The Main Street and Burgess Avenue crossings prove trickier to address, Guess said.

Installation of full safety measures on Main Street - a 60-foot median to the north and a 100-foot median to the south - would eliminate at least five roadside parking spaces for Rancho Grande and would require access to the city parking lots to be moved. The cost would be about $64,000. The alternative is to leave the crossing open, installing only 40-foot medians on each side of the railroad tracks to meet minimal safety requirements. The latter option would cost about $37,000.

However, the open crossing is not as safe, requiring an adjustment at another crossing to keep the risk measurement of the whole zone below the required levels - if the Main Street crossing remains open, the Maple Street crossing must be closed.

On Burgess Avenue, the challenge comes from the close proximity of West Sixth and Railroad streets. To install minimum full safety measures - 60-foot medians - to count toward the zone's risk reduction, the city would have to relocate these intersections, cutting into property owned by the corner businesses. This option would cost approximately $110,500.

The alternative is to leave the crossing classified as open and install 40-foot medians on the north and south sides of Burgess Avenue, a project that would cost about $64,000.

The safest of the five quiet zone scenarios includes closing the Maple Street crossing, leaving the Grant Road crossing open, and installing full 60- to 100-foot medians at the Bella Vista Road, North Clark Street, North Main Street, North Carroll Street and Burgess Avenue crossings, said Guess.

The council could leave the Grant Road, North Main Street and Burgess Avenue crossings open for minimum impact on nearby property owners, but this scenario has the highest risk, he added.

If a quiet zone were to be implemented, the risk assessment would be reviewed about once every three years.

Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann read a Union Pacific statement stating the railroad company's belief that quiet zones "compromise the safety of employees, customers and the general public."

The council will continue to debate the issue at future meetings.