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Whatever the reason, residents are banding together to take action.
In response to complaints, including a petition drive led by Figus and Bunde, the Shoreview City Council last month approved spending $12,000 for a study to see whether “quiet zones” could be established at one or more of the crossings in the city. That includes Cardigan Junction, a triangular area of land bound on the east by Vadnais Lake, on the west by Grass Lake and on the south by Interstate 694 at Rice Street.
This week, the City Council in Little Canada will consider a similar plan at a cost of $10,000, which City Administrator Joel Hanson expects will be approved.
There are five Canadian Pacific railroad crossings in a span of about 2 miles within the city, Hanson said. That means, because of federal rules, trains coming through essentially have to sound their horns during their whole run through town. When there was only about one train a day running through, it wasn’t really an issue, he said. But now traffic has increased, including in the wee hours of the morning, and it’s getting intolerable.
“We started getting calls back in May. … I’ve been here a long time, and this issue by far has generated the most complaints I have ever seen since I’ve been here,” he said. “We get about three to five calls a day,” sometimes from residents living a mile from the tracks.
“Quiet zones” are sections of track, typically half a mile long, where trains do not have to sound their horns at crossings. But because that mandated safety measure is removed, the crossings have to be improved with lights, crossing gates and other features to keep vehicles from crossing. Those features are costly — about $200,000 to $250,000 per crossing, Hanson said.
For a city like Little Canada, with a general-fund budget of about $3 million, that’s a tough spending decision, he said, and would mean taking money from other city services.
Striking a balance
Quiet zones won’t address all the concerns. And cities hold virtually no sway over regulating railroads.
Changes at Canadian Pacific also could be at play. According to reports in the Canadian business press, the railway’s new hard-charging CEO, E. Hunter Harrison, has pushed to close rail yards and run longer trains to cut costs in an effort to turn around the company. Critics say the company’s safety record also has taken a hit as a result.
In the meantime, residents like Figus and Bunde wait and worry about their health, safety, property values and future.
“I would not want to think about having to leave here,” said Bunde, and she frets most about her younger neighbors with children. “I can’t see them wanting to stay here if this continues.”
Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson
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