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The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) has two mainline rail tracks and one connection track in Olathe.
The BNSF West Tracks are a portion of the Emporia Subdivision/Transcontinental Rail Line moving approximately 88 trains per day through Olathe. These tracks are carrying freight from the ports of Los Angeles and Longbeach, California to Chicago, Illinois, host to the largest rail yards in the United States. While it is physically possible to construct an elevated rail grade separation for these tracks the cost is very high due to lack of right-of-way and the number of homes and businesses in the area that would have to be acquired by the City. Until funding can be identified, a grade separation project for the West Tracks is not scheduled.
The BNSF East Tracks are a portion of the Fort Scott Subdivision Rail Line moving approximately 52 long, slow trains per day from the coal fields in Montana/Wyoming to power plants in the Southern United States. Train horns on the BNSF East Tracks will continue to blow at the following three at-grade crossings in Olathe city limits:
The Southgate Connection “Spur” connects the two mainline east/west tracks operating seven to eight trains per day. Vehicle movement is impacted by at-grade crossings at Kansas Avenue, Harrison Street, Keeler Street and Dennis Street when trains connect from one track to the other. Whistles will continue to blow at the following Southgate “Spur” at-grade crossings:
Members of the Olathe City Council are aware of the impact rail traffic has on our community. Therefore, the City Council has committed millions of dollars in a long-term initiative to eliminate at-grade railroad crossings in Olathe. We have future issues to address with regards to the impact of rail traffic on the Olathe community. It’s reasonable to anticipate that the allocation of funding for additional railroad projects will be balanced and prioritized with additional needs in the community through the Capital Improvements Program (CIP).
The proposed Intermodal in Southern Johnson County, near Edgerton Kansas, lines up geographically with Fort Worth/Alliance, Texas to the south and Chicago/Joliette, Illinois to the north. The City of Olathe does not anticipate an increase in rail traffic resulting from the Intermodal facility. However, more truck traffic is anticipated in the southern Johnson County area.
“Will the railroad continue to blow their horns after the Quiet Zone Project is completed?” - The trains blow their horns at every at-grade crossing due to federal regulation. With the Quiet Zone complete, they will be relieved of that requirement. However, they will continue to blow their horns when someone is seen on their tracks or when workers are within 25 feet of the tracks. They will also continue to blow their horns when using the Southgate Connection track for the few trains using that track daily.
“Can the remaining at-grade crossings be converted into quiet zones?” - Yes it is possible. The first quiet zone project was almost $6,000,000 of cost to the City and until it is complete, no further projects have been scheduled. It will require the City to fund the costs of improving the remaining three main line and four connection track crossings to qualify for the Federal Railroad Administration issuing a quiet zone permit.
“Can the City regulate the schedule and speed of trains?” - Rail transportation is legally part of the interstate commerce, an area where the City has no jurisdiction with little/no leverage to require any change in the operation of rail traffic as it relates to the number of trains or the time they travel through Olathe. In fact, the railroads are only accountable to a semi-autonomous government agency, the Federal Railroad Administration.
“Why does the Railroad leave their engines idling?” - There are operational reasons for letting the engines idle as opposed to shutting them down… preventing freezing during cold months, keep the brakes pressurized, etc.
“Where do I report a rough railroad crossing?” - You can report a rough crossing to the community relations contact for your state listed on BNSF's website under the Communities tab. He/she will redirect your report to BNSF's Engineering Department, which will arrange for someone to inspect the crossing.