Archive for Monday, December 21, 2015

City purchases land in an effort to silence train horns

A BNSF train travels south on the Emporia Subdivision railway that travels through central Shawnee.

A BNSF train travels south on the Emporia Subdivision railway that travels through central Shawnee.

December 21, 2015

The city of Shawnee has taken a big step in an effort to silence train horn noise that citizens have been complaining about for years.

The areas outlined in blue are the parcels of land the city is purchase in an effort to silence train horns around 55th Street and 59th Street and Woodland Road.

The areas outlined in blue are the parcels of land the city is purchase in an effort to silence train horns around 55th Street and 59th Street and Woodland Road.

On Dec. 14, the City Council approved the purchase of three pieces of land at 59th Street and Woodland Road. The land purchases, which total about $450,000, are the first step in silencing the crossing near the subdivisions of Lakepointe, The Clearing at Clear Creek and The Hills of Forest View. The city purchased about 25 acres of land around the 59th Street crossing with the intention of closing that road. The funds for the purchase are coming out of the city's economic development fund.

The horn noise has reportedly increased in frequency over the past couple years but has been an issue for more than 10 years.

The City Council has also pushed city staff to address the problem as soon as possible and came up with a prioritization schedule, identifying four crossings in the area of Woodland Road and Martindale Road.

City Manager Carol Gonzales said recent complaints have pushed city staff, lead by Assistant Public Works Director Caitlyn Gard, to push BNSF and other agencies like KDOT and the Federal Railroad Association to expedite some changes.

"The heightened concern from residents has definitely brought more attention to it," Gonzales said.

Gonzales said the City Council agreed to pay for the land purchases using the economic development fund because of the importance of the issue for residents.

"The council agreed that this is a quality of life issue that has economic impact," Gonzales said.

The purchase of the three parcels of land at 59th Street and Woodland is the first step of many to create a quite crossing. In order to close that crossing, a few things still need to happen. First the city and private land owners need to close on the contracts to purchase the property. Then, the city will file ownership documents with the county and provide that documentation to BNSF Railway. After that, the city will hold a public hearing to vacate 59th Street. Then the city and BNSF could come to a closure agreement, after which the city can remove the roadway and install permanent barricades on 59th Street. BNSF would then remove the railroad crossing surfaces and warning equipment, which will ultimately silence the horns.

Over the past five years, the city has been meeting with local Home Ownership Associations, neighborhoods, and officials with BNSF to try to come to a solution. Many of those solutions have been hard to come by because of the expense of creating quite crossing. Converting private or public crossings to quiet crossings can cost more than $500,000.

The city of Shawnee has a total of 14 public and private railway crossings along three rail lines. The Topeka Subdivision rail line has an estimated seven trains per day travel through the northern and western borders of the city from Interstate 435 to Mize Road. The Emporia Subdivision line is the busiest with 89 trains per day running through central Shawnee going north and south just east of Woodland Road. The Fort Scott Subdivision rail line sees 30 trains per day but only enters Shawnee near 79th Street and Switzer Road.

Citizens along the Emporia Subdivision line along Woodland Drive have been the most vocal about the noise. The other portion of railway that has residents concerned is at 75th Street and Martindale Road, where two crossings onto private land create a significant amount of horn noise as the trains approach the area.

Gonzales said the purchase of land at 59th Street is the first step of many to come in 2016 to address the other crossings in the area.

The city is close to entering into an agreement with the owner for both crossings at 7315 Martindale as well as at 75th Street and Martindale Road. There are several different issues that need to be resolved in order to keep moving forward, the city says. Those include acquiring property, establishing public right-of-way, obtaining a recreational trail easement, finalizing a crossing closure agreement and construction of the safety gates at 7315 Martindale.

The city is hoping to complete all these steps in order to silence the train horns at these two crossings by the spring of 2016.

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