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Equipment problem leads to train horns in downtown Bismarck

Equipment problem leads to train horns in downtown Bismarck

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Sarah Tschider waits at the Fifth Street railroad crossing in downtown Bismarck for a BNSF Railway freight train to pass on Tuesday. Tschider works nearby and said she has noticed blaring train horns recently. "I've been wondering about that because I work in the public health building," she said. Trains are sounding their horns due to issues with traffic signal equipment.

Train engineers have been sounding horns through downtown Bismarck's "quiet rail zone" in recent days due to issues with traffic signal equipment related to the city's project converting Main Avenue to three lanes.

Crews installed traffic signal controllers which aren't syncing up with BNSF equipment that helps clear traffic away from a crossing. The city is working with the contractor to fix the problem, City Traffic Engineer Mark Berg said Tuesday.

The technical problem boils down this way: When a train approaches a crossing, it triggers the crossing arms and also trips equipment that controls nearby stoplights. The problem that crews are trying to fix is not affecting the automated crossing arms.

"It's not a safety issue," Berg said.

The federal government requires trains to blare their horns at high volumes at unprotected crossings that do not meet quiet rail standards. A quiet rail zone allows train horns to cease if infrastructure such as gates and flashing lights is installed to protect vehicles and pedestrians.

Bismarck's $2.8 million project at Third, Fifth and 12th streets went into operation in January 2017, enabling BNSF Railway trains to go through those crossings without using horns. Train horns can reach 115 decibels, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. That's about the same as a rock concert, according to the Hearing Health Foundation.

Once the problem with the traffic signal controllers is fixed, the city will notify BNSF so train engineers can stop sounding horns.

BNSF notifies train crews about quiet rail zones and also posts signs on both sides of a zone to further alert train engineers that they don't need to sound their horns, according to BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace. Engineers reserve the right to sound the horns if they deem it necessary for safety, such as to alert someone who is on the tracks.

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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