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Burlington, Iowa, nears quiet zone plan

(The following story by John R. Pulliam appeared on The Register-Mail website on November 16, 2009.)

GALESBURG, Ill. — Burlington, Iowa, officials say they hope to have a plan in place near Christmas to silence the noise from passing trains. Many Galesburg residents would like a similar Christmas present, or such a gift any time of the year.

City Manager Doug Worden said safety modifications to seven downtown grade crossings and the closure of three others are almost complete.

Public Works Director Ron Knoke told The Register-Mail this morning that officials from the Federal Railroad Administration and BNSF Railway will inspect the work Dec. 2, then BNSF will have 20 days to comment on the quiet zone design.

If there are no objections, the FRA will award the quiet zone status.

“We’ll be set to go around Christmas,” Knoke said.

Knoke said the total cost for the quiet zones in Burlington will run about $500,000. That includes about $310,000 for the main construction costs, the consultant’s fee and other costs. He said no state or federal funds were used in Burlington. He said there are safety improvement funds available in Iowa, but it takes three to four years to get the money after the application is submitted. Knoke said the call for quiet zones in Burlington was too strong to wait that long. He said Burlington will get some money from the BNSF for closing the crossings.

“We were, I guess, maybe more fortunate than some cities,” he said. “The minimum requirement is that all of your gate crossings have to meet minimum requirements.”

He said most of Burlington’s already did. He said medians are put in the middle and the gates must reach within a foot of the medians. He said the newer version of the crossings are known as “constant time gates,” as opposed to “constant distance gates.” He said the new version takes into account the speed of the train as to when the gates come down. The old version used distance, whether a train was traveling at 15 or 60 mph, he said.

“It adjusts to the speed of the train,” Knoke said.

Knoke said he attended a workshop on quiet zones in September 2005, “but we didn’t start doing anything until almost two years after that.”

He said he goes through or around Galesburg often.

“You have a much more complicated rail system that goes through Galesburg,” he said.

“There’s two main lines that go through (Burlington),” Knoke said. That compares to seven BNSF lines that converge in Galesburg. He said the need to build two overpasses and an underpass in Galesburg alone makes the project more complicated here. Plus, he said one of the three crossings being closed in the southeastern Iowa city served as an access road to just one business.

City officials in Burlington have been working on a noise-reduction plan for almost two years and hope it will lead to more upper-story residential development downtown.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

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