By Sue Webber
Pat Thomas said her Sunnyside Estates neighborhood in Rogers is bothered by the loud train horns disrupting their sleep at night. Sunnyside Estates is northwest of Highway 101 and Interstate 94, between 137th and 141st Avenues North.
Speaking at the Open Forum portion of the Aug. 12 Rogers City Council meeting, Thomas said, “There are loud train horns after 11 p.m. and between 3 and 7 a.m. Sometimes there’s a 10-15-minute interval between one and the next. It’s very, very hard to deal with it. Holy, moley, it’s loud. What can we do about getting a quiet zone?”
In the past, loud train horns have been uncommon in the middle of the night, she said. “The noise is waking residents up, especially children,” she said. “Lack of sleep adds to stress. This is a community of families who need a good night’s rest. If this continues, Rogers will be an undesirable choice of places to live.”
Neighbors have posted messages about the noise on the city’s Nextdoor website, Thomas said.
John Seifert, Rogers Public Works director, said city officials also have received multiple comments about the noise. However, he said that obtaining a quiet zone designation for a railroad is not an easy process.
According to an internet explanation, “A quiet zone is a railroad corridor section(s) where train crews do not routinely sound the horn at highway crossings. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) oversees the requirements to establish Quiet Zones; in Minnesota, local governments are responsible for all costs associated with these zones.
“A railroad segment may qualify for an FRA Quiet Zone designation if supplemental or alternative crossing improvements are made to mitigate safety by the lost train horn. Improvements may be crossing closures, one-way conversions, quad gates, medians and signs and pavement markings.”
The railroad is operated by Burlington-Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF), and runs northwest from Minneapolis to a point close to the nuclear plant in Monticello, Seifert said. In the past, the line only was used a couple of times a week, during the day. Now, however, economic and transportation needs have increased.
The railroad’s two largest customers in Rogers are South Side Lumber Co. and Advanced Extrusion, both on Industrial Boulevard, according to Seifert. Other frequent users are in the cities of St. Michael and Albertville, he said.
“The question is whether this (the loud middle-of-the-night horns) is a long-term change, and whether it’s permanent,” Seifert said.
Researching and ultimately requesting a quiet zone is a long process with many elements, according to Seifert. Potential quiet zone railroad crossings in Rogers could involve changes and improvements at one or more of the following:
• CSAH 144 – no gates
• Industrial Boulevard – has no gates
• CSAH 150 – partial gates (Main Street)
• Fletcher Lane – gravel, no gates
• Future 116 expansion – gates are designed to be included
• CSAH 13 – half is in Rogers and half is in the city of Dayton
The process would involve conducting site visits with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), federal rail authorities, BNSF and Hennepin County. Each agency involved would be given appropriate time to report and respond during two-month periods. Rogers would receive and then respond to comments from those agencies.
Hennepin County would have to work with the county engineer to lay out improvements needed, and other involved agencies would again be required to review and comment.
Rogers would be required to pay 40 years of preventive maintenance at any of the crossings designated in the city, at a cost of $385,000. In all, the cost of achieving a quiet zone could approach $1 million per site, Seifert said.
“It would involve significant cost and significant improvements,” he said. “It is a long and very detailed process.” Seifert estimated that the process could take 12-18 months to complete.
City Attorney Bob Vose said his firm has worked with a number of cities that have gone through the process to obtain a quiet zone, and 18 months to two years is a “totally realistic” time frame.
“We could get pretty far down the road and then be denied,” Mayor Rick Ihli said.
Even with a quiet zone, trains could still sound their horns if a vehicle or obstruction was on the tracks, or if animals or pedestrians were seen on the tracks.