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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

BNSF, IDOT to pay for Burlington, Iowa, crossing closures

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At a meeting September 8, the Burlington, Iowa, City Council is expected to approve a financial agreement with BNSF and the Iowa Department of Transportation for the closure of three downtown grade crossings, according to the Burlington Hawkeye. Under terms of the agreement, BNSF will pay the city $65,500, with IDOT providing $22,500 toward the closure of Third, Seventh and Eighth streetsCity officials had intended to address those crossings in 2010 as part of a plan to silence noise from train horns approved by the Federal Railroad Administration. The quiet zone plan also includes safety upgrades and modifications at seven additional downtown crossings.

Last year, BNSF officials raised concerns with the FRA about the city's phased approach. The railroad said postponing safety improvements at the three crossings would create an increased safety risk due to the absence of train horns. The railroad lobbied the city to complete work on the crossings in question at the same time as other downtown crossings.

In an October 2008 letter to the city, BNSF officials indicated any funds made available to the city should not be misconstrued as payment toward the creation of a quiet zone.

"It is not the policy of BNSF Railway to fund quiet zone improvements for communities," said Craig Rasmussen, manager of public works for BNSF, in the written statement.

Last week, construction began on quiet zone plan. Work is expected to continue for up to three months. The $307,498 price tag came in about $100,000 lower than officials had estimated. As part of the city's quiet zone plan, 100-foot medians will be installed on both sides of the Main Street grade crossing, with a channelization island on Market Street.

Safety upgrades at the Jefferson/Hawkeye streets crossing includes a 100-foot and two 60-foot medians. At Lucas Avenue, a 100-foot median will be installed.

Medians will be installed at crossings at Fourth and Fifth streets, and two 60-foot medians are needed at the Valley Street crossing. In addition, the east vehicle gate on South Street near the sewage treatment plant will be relocated.

After the work is finished, the FRA will review the modifications. Public Works Director Ron Knoke indicated he is confident the FRA will grant the city quiet zone status based on a reduced safety threshold. Once established, locomotive horns will not have to be routinely sounded.

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