Minnesota Department of Transportation

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Railroad Crossings

  1. Which vehicles are required to stop at railroad crossings?
  2. How long can a train block a crossing?
  3. What should the train's speed be in a residential area and rural area?
  4. How do I find out more information about a particular crossing or train line?
  5. Who do I contact if I want to file a complaint about a crossing?
  6. Who inspects the crossings and tracks?
  7. Who maintains the advance warning signs, crossbuck and wood post, signals or the crossing surface?
  8. How do I request that signals be installed at a particular crossing?
  9. How can I apply for various safety programs?
  10. What is the purpose of the USDOTNO tag and how is it located at a crossing?
  11. What is the typical location of signs in advance of railroad crossings?
  12. What is the typical height and lateral clearance of signs?
  13. Who do I contact if a signal is malfunctioning at a railroad crossing?
  14. Which characteristics should a crossing have before the Office of Freight & Commercial Vehicle Operations authorizes an engineering study for a potential STOP sign installation?

Quiet Zones

  1. Why has there been a recent uptick in train traffic and accompanying noise?
  2. What is a railroad Quiet Zone?
  3. How many types of Quiet Zones are there?
  4. Who is responsible to make a Quiet Zone designation?
  5. Who pays for a Quiet Zone?
  6. What is MnDOT's role, if any, in a Quiet Zone?
  7. How should a municipality apply for federal Quiet Zone status?
  8. What happens if this Notice of Intent is denied?
  9. How long does it take to establish a Quiet Zone?
  10. How many federal Quiet Zones are in Minnesota? Which cities have established them?
  11. Where can I find out more information?

Railroad Crossings

Which vehicles are required to stop at railroad crossings?

  • any motor vehicle carrying passengers for-hire
  • any school bus, whether carrying passengers or not
  • any vehicle carrying explosive substances, flammable liquids, or liquid gas under pressure as a cargo or part of a cargo

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How long can a train block a crossing?

Trains are not to block public roads or streets longer than 10 minutes. See Minnesota Statutes 219.383 subd. 3.

As MnDOT's authority is limited, any problem should be reported to the local city government which can then contact the appropriate railroad company about the problem. Note that the subdivision above does not apply to cities of the first class, which regulate obstructions of streets by ordinance. Minneapolis and St. Paul can pass their own ordinances on the matter.

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What should the train's speed be in a residential area and rural area?

Speeds will vary from 10 mph or less to 79 mph. The train speed is primarily dependent on the track condition, the geometric layout of the tracks and the signal systems capabilities. To find out the speed at a particular crossing, contact the particular railroad company first for the latest information. If information is not available, contact MnDOT's Office of Freight & Commercial Vehicle Operations.

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How do I find out more information about a particular crossing or train line?

Contact the particular railroad company first. If you're unable to locate appropriate contact information, contact the railroad's central offices -- typically a public works engineer. If information is not available, contact MnDOT's Office of Freight & Commercial Vehicle Operations.

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Who do I contact if I want to file a complaint about a crossing?

Contact the particular railroad company first. If you're unable to locate appropriate contact information, contact their central offices -- typically a public works engineer. If information is not available, contact MnDOT's Office of Freight & Commercial Vehicle Operations.

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Who inspects the crossings and tracks?

Railroad tracks and crossings are inspected by railroads regularly. How often ranges from daily to monthly, depending on condition and use of the track. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and MnDOT make periodic inspections, depending on use. The FRA will also respond to complaints about track conditions.

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Who maintains the advance warning signs, crossbuck and wood post, signals or the crossing surface?

  • Advance warning signs: Maintained by the local road authority
  • Crossbuck and wood post: Maintained by particular railroad company
  • Signals: Maintained by particular railroad company
  • Crossing surface: Maintained by particular railroad company

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How can I request that signals be installed at a particular crossing?

For best results, contact your city or county engineer, or MnDOT's Office of Freight & Commercial Vehicle Operations.

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How can I apply for various safety programs?

For best results, contact your city or county engineer, or MnDOT's Office of Freight & Commercial Vehicle Operations.

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What is the purpose of the USDOTNO tag and how is it located at a crossing?

The USDOTNO tag is an identification tag for a crossing. Public and private crossings are assigned USDOTNO tags by the Federal Railroad Administration. They are located on the side of the wood post facing roadways, or banded to the signal mask.

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What is the typical location of signs in advance of railroad crossings?

Contact your local county or MnDOT traffic office. The information can be found in the Minnesota Manual of Traffic Control Devices.

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What is the typical height and lateral clearance of signs?

Contact your local county or MnDOT traffic office. The information can be found in the Minnesota Manual of Traffic Control Devices.

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Who do I contact if a signal is malfunctioning at a railroad crossing?

Contact the particular railroad copany first. If you're unable to locate appropriate contact information, contact their central offices. If information is not available, contact Tom Gellerman, 651-296-1677 at MonDOT's Office of Freight & Commercial Vehicle Operations. Please have the crossing USDOT number, railroad company name and the location of the crossing available, including road name.

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Which characteristics should a crossing have before the Office of Freight & Commercial Vehicle Operations authorizes an engineering study for a potential STOP sign installation?

Stop signs are primarily installed at grade crossings when there area:

  • fewer than 700 cars per day
  • train speed is greater than 40 m.p.h. and
  • there are more than 5 trains per day

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Railroad Quiet Zones

Why has there been a recent uptick in train traffic and accompanying noise?

One reason for higher freight rail traffic volume in recent months is increased commodity shipments of frac sand, coal and other goods movement. Trains’ final destinations are Chicago or further south, such as Texas.

Particularly in (but not limited to) the east metro, the Canadian Pacific railroad has chosen to make business changes. As a result, the Canadian Junction area is now used to do track switching instead of BNSF tracks. In response to increased train traffic and noise, several communities have inquired about establishing a federal Quiet Zone.

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What is a railroad Quiet Zone?

A Quiet Zone is a railroad section(s) where train crews do not routinely sound the horn at highway crossings.

A railroad segment may qualify for this federal designation only if supplemental or alternative safety improvements are made to offset the loss of the horn at a crossing. Such safety improvements may be crossing closures, one-way conversions, quad gates, medians and signs and pavement markings. Learn more.

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How many types of railroad Quiet Zones are there?

There are several types of Quiet Zones, including nighttime-only (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and 24-hour zones.

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Who is responsible to make a Quiet Zone designation?

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) oversees the requirements to establish Quiet Zones.

Neither MnDOT nor private railroads are able to designate a Quiet Zone.

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Who pays for a Quiet Zone?

In Minnesota, local governments such as cities and/or counties are responsible for all costs to establish a Quiet Zone. Except in limited cases, MnDOT does not allocate funding to establish these zones.

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So what is MnDOT's role, if any, in a Quiet Zone?

MnDOT may contribute a small amount of funding to a municipality — typically under $8,000 — for a crossing closure considered to be a safety measure. While not required to establish a Quiet Zone, crossing closures are often an excellent strategy for cities to reduce overall Quiet Zone costs.

Through 2016, a federal program known as Section 130 can provide this safety-related closure funding. For 2017 and beyond, closure selections will be ranked statewide; MnDOT will solicit candidate projects from local agencies and from railroads. (In the metro area, $2 million is dedicated in 2014; $1.9 million will be dedicated in 2015 and $1.8 million in 2016.) 

Although MnDOT can use up to $1 million in shared statewide funds from its Grade Crossing Safety Program, these funds are reserved for minor “spot” safety improvements, e.g. minor roadway corrections, flasher upgrades and closures, rather than extensive signal upgrades.

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How should a municipality go about applying for federal Quiet Zone status?

Local governments can apply to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for a Quiet Zone designation by filing a Notice of Intent (sample here). Contacting private railroads should be avoided when possible, as this may result in a delayed request.

Once the FRA receives the Notice of Intent, a diagnostic team comprising the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration, local government staff and railroad staff will evaluate the crossing’s condition. This team weighs existing train volumes and speeds, traffic volume, roadway lanes, and supplemental safety measures in place to offset the lost horn. Supplemental measures may include additional yield signs, flashers, gates or constant motion circuitry.

As part of this diagnostic team, MnDOT will often recommend that certain measures are taken by liable parties. Only FRA is responsible, however, to administer the final decision.

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What happens if the Notice of Intent is denied?

If a local government does not qualify for Quiet Zone status, the FRA will deny the Notice of Intent. On a limited basis, MnDOT may sometimes grant the option to close a rail crossing.

A closure is permanent. (In technical terms, MnDOT completely vacates its street easement granted by the railroad.) If the closure is done for safety reasons — not due to maintenance or quality of life concerns — then MnDOT may assist the municipality with available funds from the Rail Grade Crossing Safety Assistance account (typically $1,500).

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How long does it take to establish a Quiet Zone?

The soonest that a city-funded Quiet Zone can realistically be implemented is 18 months, according to the FRA.

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How many federal Quiet Zones are now in Minnesota? Which cities have established them?

The number of Quiet Zones currently designated in the state is unavailable. Recent Minnesota cities that have established Quiet Zones with local funds are New Hope, Plymouth and Sauk Rapids.

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Where can I find out more information?

For more information about quiet zones or railroad operations, visit the Federal Railroad Administration site.

Federal Railroad Association
Tammy Wagner, Regional Crossing Manager
200 West Adams, Suite 310
Chicago, Illinois 60606
Ph: (815) 715-6034
Fax: (312) 886-9634
Email:  tammy.wagner@fra.dot.gov

Union Pacific Railroad
Crossing issues with signals or gates:  888-877-7267
Michael Blackley
1400 Douglas Street – Stop 0910
Omaha, NE 68179
Ph: (402) 544-2029
Email:  mgblackl@up.com

Progressive Rail
Layne Leitner
21778 Highview Avenue
Lakeville, Minnesota 55044
Ph: (612) 791-1212
Fax: (952) 985-7626
Email:  lleitner@progressiverail.com

Canadian Pacific Railroad
Customer Connect Line: 800-766-7912
Email:  community_connect@cpr.ca
Jim Krieger
120 South 6th Street, Suite 900
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402
Ph: (612) 330-4555
Email:  jim_krieger@cpr.ca

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