Bozeman city staff is working with north-side developers and others to reduce the noise created by the passing of frequent freight trains. That’s a good thing. But the discussion needs to go further, to ways through which railroad intersections with streets can be eliminated.
Trains are required by federal law to sound their horns — loudly — when they approach street crossings. Numerous freight trains passing through north Bozeman means those horns are blasting around the clock, disrupting sleep and neighborhood serenity for residents near the tracks.
There can be exceptions to the horn laws for designated “quiet zones,” but safety improvements would have to be made to the three crossings in north Bozeman — Wallace and Rouse avenues and Griffin Drive. And city staff members are exploring those options. But the ultimate solution to the problem will be the construction of overpasses or underpasses for the railroad tracks that will eliminate the street crossings altogether.
That will be expensive and difficult to pull off. But it’s not so overwhelming it’s undoable. Montana Department of Transportation officials are already laying plans to build an underpass in Belgrade where Jackrabbit Lane crosses the tracks. And so they should. That’s another heavily traveled street where traffic is frequently interrupted by long trains trundling through.
And when those same trains hauling coal and shale oil from Eastern Montana pass through Bozeman or returning to the mines and oil fields, they disrupt traffic there for substantial periods of time. This isn’t just an annoyance. The trains have the potential to stall first responders en route to emergencies on the other side of the tracks. And as the population grows, this situation is only going to get worse.
The MDOT will also have to be involved in any construction on Rouse Avenue, also a state designated route. Federal infrastructure funds recently appropriated could perhaps be tapped to help pay for the work. And Montana Rail Link, which owns the railroad right-of-way, will have to be involved. But there are benefits the railroad will accrue from eliminating the crossings — such as increased safety — and it should be persuaded to participate in funding the construction.
Yes, eliminating the street crossings will be expensive and, even under the best of circumstances, will take years to pull off.
But the time to start talking about it is now.