Railing for change

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 25, 2002

For Amy Rohf, living next to the railroad has been an adjustment.

"It's loud!" Rohf said, looking out her deck to the railroad that runs in front of it. On Monday the Surface Transportation Board gave Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad to go-ahead to purchase the railway from I&M Rail Link. The railway cuts through 8th Avenue NE, where Rohf lives.

Currently the trains run three to eight times a day, Rohf said. Rohf moved to Austin about a month ago from Bloomington to start a boarding house from her home.

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"The people that were here before me told me that it didn't come through often anymore, but it's increasing," she said.

David Bublitz, who has worked at I&M for five years, said the trains run four to five times a day and he doesn't forsee the train traffic increasing in the near future.

DM&E's future plans for the railway could include higher train volume, which could affect noise volume, traffic flow and safety and pedestrian safety.

Austin officials have hired Short Elliot Hendrickson Inc. to study any impact more trains would have on the town and county, said Patrick McGarvey, city administrator. The study costs about $7,000, but Mower County and Hormel Foods are also contributing to the cost. The study should be complete in about a month.

McGarvey said he didn't know what exactly DM&E's plans for the railway were, but predicted traffic volume could increase -- and go through Austin at a higher speed.

"They're buying it with the intention that it is going to be busy," McGarvey said.

The railway would have to be upgraded if train volume and speed would increase, he added.

McGarvey thinks the intersection on 8th Avenue NE would be most affected because automobile traffic is high there and because there isn't an under or over pass.

Rohf said traffic is already affected by the railway. At night the train will stop in the middle of the intersection for 10 or 15 minutes to be inspected. Cars waiting will honk, she said, and many of them do not know alternative ways around the track so they have to wait.

"People on the other side can't get into town," Rohf said. "There's no way to get around."

Arms at the crossings are another item the city would discuss with DM&E if train volume increases, McGarvey said.

Rohf said she is surprised there are not arms at the intersection near her house because of the number of trains that go through.

"With as frequent as it comes here, I'm shocked it isn't mandated," Rohf said.

Rohf is able to sleep through the train noise now and so are her children ages five and six months. But some of her boarders still wake up to the train whistles.

Rohf said, however, the noise isn't enough to make her move. "We have to tolerate it," she said.

A resident who lives down the street from Rohf, but did not want to be identified, said he doesn't mind the noise.

"I kind of like listening to the whistle once in awhile," said the resident who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years.

Rich Bergstrom, who lives on 4th Avenue SE, said he's gotten used to the noise after three years of living next to the track.

"I kind of realized that when I bought the house I was going to have to deal with it," Bergstrom said.

What Bergstrom is most concerned with is the depreciation of his property because of his proximity to the rail.

But Bergstrom said he's has always supported railways.

"I just think it's a more efficient way to move a product," he said.

Rohf also said she sees the value in railways.

Coal is one of the main products DM&E ships. Because the country is growing, there's more demand for energy, McGarvey said.

"There's a role for the railroad there," McGarvey said.

DM&E's still has steps to take before it can begin plans to ship coal from the Midwest to Wyoming, so the effect of Monday's decision will not be immediately known, McGarvey said.

"It's months if not years into the making," McGarvey said.

-- Staff editor Dan Fields contributed to this report.

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at cari.quam@austindailyherald.com