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'Sanborn Situation' escalates

June 20, 2012

Terry Didier, owner of Didier's Ag Center in Sanborn, reported a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train blocking the exits in the city at 10:33 a.m. Tuesday, like he does almost every day when a train blocks off the city. Over an hour later, the Barnes County Commission decided to get tough with BNSF over the Sanborn situation after a scheduled discussion at a county commission meeting.

The county approved overtime for the Sheriff's Office to monitor the trains and cite the engineers who park longer than state law allows. The office will also look into video surveillance.

Barnes County Assistant State's Attorney Brad Cruff will look into proposing a new state law that would specifically target the Sanborn situation.

The county will also look into finding funding sources at the state level that would help pay for a fix to the problem.

Sanborn has two railroad crossings on the south end of town, and for decades citizens have complained of trains blocking access in and out of the city. Sanborn is a heavily used passing point for the railroad, where one train will pull off to a side track to allow another to go by. Under state law, the crossings can only be stopped by 10 minutes at a time, with seven exceptions.

"You've 10 minutes to get through there, then there are these exceptions, none of which apply to the Sanborn situation," said District 24 Representative Phil Mueller D-Valley City.

"These railroad folks, be it engineers or the railroad itself, none of what they're doing qualifies as these exceptions."

The city lies in Commissioner Rodger Berntson's district, and he said he has witnessed two trains passing in about five minutes, but recently he and Didier watched one stop for over 20 minutes.

"Then when they come to take off, they pulled about three boxcar lengths ahead, and stopped again," he said.

"For what? It's just time wasted on both ends of this deal."

Citizens have also complained of engineers using their horns excessively and unnecessarily, particularly in the middle of the night and during church services.

"It seems like they're poking fun at it," Sanborn mayor Clayton Risser said.

Mueller said, "It sounds darn near like harassment. Well if it is harassment, there should be a fix to that.

"Calling them on the carpet again and again and again probably is in order here because the law is pretty clear: You can't block that thing in excess of 10 minutes."

Risser said many people have cited the railroad as their only reason for moving out of Sanborn, and extending the side track could solve the problem once and for all. However, BNSF has said extending the track is not on their list of capital improvements and won't be in the near future.

"Someday we'll all be off these boards," Risser told the commission, "you guys will be off these boards; we'll be off these boards, and this will comeback and somebody else will have to deal with it because of the side track.

Risser said the problem developed over the years because trains began getting longer and longer. Berntson said that with the amount of the oil in the western portion of the state that is increasingly being shipped via railroads, he expects train traffic to increase.

Commissioner Cindy Schwehr said, "It's just a multitude of things. It's being blocked, it's hurting business, emergency services can't get out, now the train whistle issue, it just keeps growing. The problem is what we're setting up to do isn't going to help, but it couldn't make it worse."

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