East Grand Forks City Council members review engineering agreement for railroad quiet zone

EAST GRAND FORKS – An engineering agreement between the city of East Grand Forks and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway for a railroad quiet zone near Sacred Heart School was reviewed by City Council members at a Tuesday work session.

The engineering agreement allows BNSF to hire a subcontractor at an estimated cost of $34,885, which would be at the city’s expense. The consultant will provide engineering services to review the plans and prepare a detailed diagnostic review of crossing upgrades and enclosures. BNSF will hire Benesch Engineering for these services.

The scope of work includes the railroad crossings at Third Street Northwest, Central Avenue Northwest and Second Avenue Northeast.

City Attorney Ron Galstad reviewed the engineering agreement and identified some concerns, including that the consultant is 100% city expense, the language within the agreement states BNSF isn’t obligated to perform the quiet zone agreement, a statement that BNSF does not recommend quiet zones and that maintenance of the quiet zone equipment is at no cost to BNSF.

City Administrator David Murphy said he spoke with a staff member with BNSF who informed him that because of liability purposes, BNSF doesn't officially endorse quiet zones and its legal representation insists on that language in agreements. Since BNSF doesn't promote quiet zones, the company's policy is the cost to create them is to be paid by the entity requesting the quiet zone.

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Despite the concerns with the agreement, Murphy recommended council members move forward with it, since negotiating a better agreement would be difficult.

The railroad quiet zone near Sacred Heart School was approved by council members in January and will make it so that trains won't have to routinely sound their horns along the crossings near the school.

In other news Tuesday, council members:

Heard an update on the status for the 2023 budget. Finance Director Karla Anderson said the city should plan for an increase in salaries of 7% as well as an increase for worker compensation, which Anderson said increased within public safety jobs last year.Received a presentation of the results on an ice sports economic contribution survey from the 2021-2022 winter ice sports season. The Parks and Recreation Department, along with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, worked together to conduct the survey, looking at the number of visitors to ice events in East Grand Forks. According to data, there were an estimated 3,955 overnight visitors and 5,424 day-trippers during the season. Using those figures and the spending profiles, it’s estimated the 9,379 visitors spent nearly $1.7 million in the East Grand Forks area during their hockey or figure skating-related trips.

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