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Train, train, go away…

By Staff | Mar 29, 2015

Union Pacific officials at the meeting.

A group of Blue Earth residents who live along Rice Street are none-too-happy with having engine-idling locomotives and trains containing refrigerator rail cars with running compressors ‘parked’ virtually in their backyards.

And, last Tuesday morning they were able to air their grievances to two officials from the Union Pacific Railroad at a public meeting at the Public Safety Center in Blue Earth.

Darrel Peterson is one of those residents.

“The back of my house is just 60 feet from the tracks,” Peterson says. “Train engines are parked there at various times of the day and night and their engines are left running. The walls of our house shake, the bed rattles and I can’t sleep even wearing these (noise-canceling head phones).”

Peterson says he is not anti-railroad and thinks trains are good for the transportation industry.

“But in my book, this is harassment; it’s torture,” he says. “At the very least it is a big nuisance.”

Peterson admits people tell him he can’t complain because he knew the railroad tracks were there when he bought the house 30 years ago.

“For 25 years we never had an issue with it,” he says. “Trains went by and that was just fine. But just since 2011 the trains are parked here and left running all the time.”

Wes Lujan, assistant vice president of public affairs out of the Union Pacific Railroad’s Chicago office, said he was in Blue Earth to hear the concerns of the residents.

“It is not one of our company’s goals to be a nuisance,” he told the residents, but admitted there were not any easy solutions that would totally eliminate the problems. “The railroad is a business and it operates 365 days a year and 24 hours a day.”

Brad Bjeric, senior train master in the Union Pacific’s Mason City office, explained the train operation in Blue Earth. While there are several trains which just pass through thecity often, there is one daily “work train.”

“A crew leaves Blue Earth in the morning and takes a train to Fairmont and beyond, serving our customers, and returns between 4 and 6 p.m.,” Bjeric says. “Another crew comes up from Mason City about 10 p.m., bringing a train, leaving it here and taking the other train back with them.”

Randy Frandle, another resident of Rice Street, says that is part of the problem.

“Trains are left running from 4 to 10 in the evening,” he says. “That is just when we are home from work and trying to enjoy our homes and yards.”

Frandle added that trains are sometimes left running all weekend and wondered about wasting all that fuel. The answer was that the locomotives need to stay running in cold weather or hot weather- and to keep the air brakes operational.

Lujan and Bjeric did promise to do what they could to alleviate the problem as much as possible for the short term. That included parking the locomotives as far away from homes and residences as they can.

Frandle offered another solution.

“Maybe you could build a train yard outside of Blue Earth,” he said. “Maybe further down the tracks, on the other side of the highway.”

Bjeric said he would love to have a new yard between Blue Earth and Guckeen, but it was not on the railroad’s capital improvements list.

Blue Earth mayor Rick Scholtes had one other idea.

“Can’t you extend that one track south of 14th Street, like it used to be, and park the locomotives and cars there?” he questioned. “That seems like a perfect solution.”

Lujan pointed out the tracks, other than the main line, are actually owned by Watonwan Farm Services and the railroad leases them. He suggested the city talk to WFS about the possible extension of the track.

Other, more expensive possible solutions, such as sound barrier walls between the tracks and the backyards of residents would also have to be a city project, the railroad official said, adding that such walls are not always effective.

One other railroad noise complaint that was brought up at the meeting was the excessive blowing of whistles as trains go through the city.

The two Union Pacific officials explained that engineers are required to give two long, one short and one long whistle at every crossing. They promised to conduct a crossing audit to ensure employees are doing it correctly.

“There also is a thing called a “quiet zone” for cities,” Lujan said. “The city would have to work with MnDOT for that to happen.”

City administrator Tim Ibisch promised to check into it.