Given major costs, trains are here to stay

Fairmont City Councilman Tom Hawkins this week expressed surprise that he has received numerous complaints about trains blocking streets in town, as well as corresponding whistle noise. We share his surprise. While we all may feel inconvenienced by trains blocking our way now and then, it also seems like just part of life.

Unless Union Pacific is going to re-route its line and lay down new tracks north or south of town, the train delays will continue for … well … forever. The whistles are just part of the deal.

The City Council this week discussed the idea of a “quiet zone,” which is an area, such as a city, that prohibits the use of train whistles as a warning sign. The tradeoff? Gates at every railroad crossing, and a system to prevent people from driving around them. Fairmont has five streets that cross the tracks, but only one has a gate system. The cost to put up four more gates is a whopping $1.1 million, and it’s the city — not the railroad — that would face the bill. No state or federal funds are available. Clearly, this cost is just too high.

As for the perceived long delays at the crossings, it would be nice if the city and Mayo Clinic Health System — concerned about ambulance runs — could convince Union Pacific to prevent the trains from blocking the tracks for too long. But, again, and especially in an agricultural community, trains are part of life. The grain-processing plants in the industrial park on the west side of town load and ship several 75- to 100-car trains each week.