Frustrated business owners in La Crescent are considering taking legal action against Canadian Pacific because of trains blocking crossings and causing lengthy delays for their trucks, according to Mayor Mike Poellinger.
At the same time, the city is making progress toward the goal of establishing a railroad quiet zone in La Crescent, said City Engineer Tim Hruska at Monday’s city council meeting.
To establish a quiet zone, upgrades to the railroad crossings in La Crescent would have to be built, such as installing cross arms. The improvements would mean that passing trains would not be required to sound their whistles.
There are five crossings in La Crescent, Poellinger said, but all except the Main Street crossing are classified as private crossings by the Federal Railroad Administration. Private crossings are not eligible under Federal Railroad Administration rules for the infrastructure improvements needed to silence train whistles.
However, Hruska told the council that the city can request to change the classification of the crossings to public, which would then allow the plans for a quiet zone to proceed. The next step is to arrange a meeting to discuss the plan with representatives of Canadian Pacific and the Federal Railroad Administration.
How much the quiet zone plan would cost and how those costs would be distributed has yet to be determined, the mayor said.
Hruska noted that a train crossing to the south of La Crescent that’s not within city limits would not be part of the plan, meaning trains would still sound their whistles when they pass through it. But noise pollution would still be greatly reduced by quieting whistles at the other crossings, the city engineer said.
The mayor also hinted that the city could move to annex the crossing into the city to include in any quiet zone plan.
Meanwhile, La Crescent Police Chief Doug Stavenau said the city issued a citation to Canadian Pacific last week for blocking a crossing for longer than 10 minutes, which violates state law.
With court costs included, the citation will cost the railroad company $175, said city attorney Skip Wieser. Councilman Dale Williams said the sum was “nothing” to Canadian Pacific and asked if the city could raise the fine to “$5,000 or $10,000 to get their attention.”
Wieser said the level of the fine was set by the state legislature and could not be raised by the city.
In an emailed statement, Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummings said the railroad company is “willing to meet with the city to discuss issues around blocked crossings in La Crescent.
“We are committed to being a good neighbor in the communities we operate in and through, and we look forward to finding solutions that will meet the needs of the city and the railroad,” Cummings said.
Canadian Pacific also has been working with the city for several years to provide information on setting up a quiet zone, Cummings added. The city must apply to the Federal Railroad Administration to establish a quiet zone, he noted.
Poellinger said after Monday’s meeting that problems with trains in La Crescent have increased over the last decade due to greater traffic. The two businesses most affected are PT Welding and Crest Precast Concrete, which are both accessed by railroad crossings, the mayor said. Those crossings sometime are blocked for several hours, according to Poellinger. He said during Monday’s council meeting that La Crescent businesses impacted by the trains were considering taking legal action against Canadian Pacific, but didn’t provide any other details.