Following noise complaints about a new railway spur line added last summer, Brooks Ridge and Tuscany Hills homeowners say things might be looking up.
Within the past several weeks, Twin Cities & Western Railroad met with a homeowners group and talked about potential changes to lessen area noise caused by clanking railcars.
That solution? Move most of the cars to the other end of the long spur line (a branch off the main line used for storing and changing freight) to the east of Highway 41 into Chaska’s industrial park. Cars will begin parking there and fill up closer to the homes when needed.
Now, residents say activity behind their homes has slowed down and train cars are no longer parked or stalling there. Vandalism and big, boxy cars were exchanged for a more nature-esque view again.
But Chris Ilangaratne, with the Brooks Ridge homeowners association, said that only addresses half the problem.
“Yeah, the railcars are moved, but the noise issue continues. It’s not only a one-time thing. It’s like several times during the day they’re blowing the horn and in the middle of the night several times,” said Ilangaratne, who has lived in the neighborhood about a year.
After a homeowner, city and railroad follow-up meeting last week, Chaska City Administrator Matt Podhradsky said residents had a chance to update officials on their thoughts.
People are seeing “a pretty significant impact” in a positive sense after the activity moved east, he said.
“I think everyone pretty much agrees that’s the most ideal place to be,” Podhradsky said, about the adjusted spur line.
Twin Cities & Western Railroad President Mark Wegner said the meeting “went well” and said the company is willing to cooperate with neighbors. Other than early-on hiccups when cars were moved and the occasional need to use the whole line, he said it’s a steady solution.
”Just making that little change they saw all the difference in the world,” Wegner said. “They do understand from time to time there will be some cars there. That’s kind of in the realm of the unavoidable ... Hopefully that’s infrequent.”
But Podhradsky recognized many residents are still unhappy with the crossing north of Pioneer Trail and Bavaria Road. The current infrastructure requires a train to blow a horn each time it crosses. The crossing also affects traffic and can cause jams.
“This was another issue that people brought up, (the) noise free zone. We’re hoping that we can get something worked out,” he said.
City engineers did a preliminary design of what a silent crossing would entail, which would remove the intersection horn requirement. To do that, the city would need to put in a cement median and widen the road by eight feet, Podhradsky said. That cost could be over $400,000.
When the Clover Ridge Drive crossing added a quiet zone to a nearby rail line in the early 2000s, a developer paid for it at the time and charged nearby homeowners a fee — not the city. Wegner said the railroad “has nothing to do with” establishing a quiet zone and the noise issue is now in the hands of others.
Podhradsky said since the intersection in question belongs to Carver County, who foots the bill becomes a tricky proposition.
He said it’s feasible for Brooks Ridge and Tuscany Hills homeowners to pitch in, or ask the county to pay a percentage. The latter would require improvements to be done in the name of safety, not noise concerns, Podhradsky said. That’s unlikely to pass since there haven’t been major accidents there.
“The most inexpensive way is if work is already being done on the road,” he said, but there’s no plan for upcoming road work as of now.
Ilangaratne said that doesn’t seem fair to homeowners.
“The homeowners pay taxes, therefore we don’t have additional fees involved for this kind of thing. That’s what I thought,” he said.
But Podhradsky said noise levels are essentially back to where they were decades ago, now that activity has moved.
So what now?
In an email sent to a homeowner, Podhradsky said there are two possible options.
The first: Wait until the county does future work on Pioneer Trail. He said that road work would likely include expanding the road to four lanes anyway, making it much easier and cheaper to add a silent crossing. It could be upward of 10 years before a change like that.
Option two would entail asking the city to establish a quiet zone. Podhradsky said since the project doesn’t have city-wide benefit, homeowners would likely have to pay their share.
Ilangaratne said the homeowners association will continue to meet and discuss options.