Residents in west Minot look forward to no more train whistles

There will be fewer train whistles in west Minot with the completion of a railroad quiet zone between Souris Valley Golf Course and Maple Street.

Rolac Contracting of Minot is making safety improvements at three crossings for the City of Minot. Total project cost is $247,399, of which the city’s share is $76,510. The project is largely funded by the North Dakota Department of Transportation through the Railroad Quiet Zone program.

Once completed later this summer, the city will be able to apply to the Federal Railroad Administration for permission to discontinue the requirement for warning whistles by the 40 BNSF Railway trains that use the tracks every day. Stephanie Harman, city traffic engineer, said she expects approval to come before the end of the year.

Residents will be happy to no longer have to listen to the whistles.

“It’s really hard on the ears,” said Al Larson, whose business, Creative Printing, is located on West Burdick near the golf course. With 40 trains giving their whistles four blasts at three crossings every day, Larson said, “You have a lot of noise going on all the time.”

He said the whistles can be disruptive to conducting business, especially in the summer if windows are open. A number of residents also live in the area, and loud whistles can interfere with their phone calls or other conversations.

“We don’t like that, and we are happy that it’s being remedied,” Larson said.

Harman said getting a waiver on the whistles requires that the crossings have more than the existing bars and lights. Contractors are installing medians at each of the crossings to serve as barriers so that traffic cannot go around a railroad bar. Signs in advance of the tracks will alert motorists not to expect train whistles.

In addition, at the Maple Street crossing, the work includes replacing some existing curb and gutter, road widening on the north and pavement markings. A retaining wall is being built on the south side.

To adequately secure the crossing, some residents and businesses in the Maple Street area will lose some driveways to the curb and gutter extension. Harman said no one will be left without access, but they will have fewer access points.

At the Fifth Avenue crossing, additional work besides the medians will consist only of pavement markings. The golf course crossing will involve some roadway widening and curb and gutter.

Trains pass through the golf course crossing at 55 mph, slowing to 35 mph at Fifth Avenue and Maple Street.

The original completion date was the end of June, but due to coordination issues between the city and railroad, work temporarily stopped and the finish has been delayed. The crossings had been closed and detours in place, but the city re-opened the golf course and Fifth Avenue crossings when the length of the work stoppage became extended.

Harman explained that coordination with the railroad is necessary for the safety of construction workers. The railroad needs to be aware of project scheduling and have personnel or flaggers on site at times. Railroad and city officials and the contractor met July 18 to work out the details involved in that coordination so the project was able to resume.

Harman said that although priority funding for the project was available only through June, she is optimistic after visiting with state transportation officials that the city will get the dollars that it has anticipated.

Although the city hasn’t scheduled future projects under the Railroad Quiet Zone program, the city council in 2011 prioritized four other areas where it would like to end train whistles.

At that time, the second priority was the Canadian Pacific Railway crossings at Maple Street and Amtrak/Third Street Southwest. Other areas on the priority list are the crossing at Eighth Avenue and Ninth Street Southeast, four crossings downtown and the crossing at 27th Street Southeast.