Crystal Getting Railroaded
By Andrew Richter
Well, folks this issue just pisses me off and no I’m not talking about light rail. The BSNF and CP rails want to connect in Crystal and there is little anyone can do to stop it.
Ward 2 Crystal Councilman Jeff Kolb does a great job of summarizing the proposal on his website;
This would allow trains moving east/west on the CP line to turn and go north/south on the BNSF line. With this change we would see an increase of rail traffic through Crystal. It is expected that both the frequency of trains and the length of the trains going through would increase significantly. Some of the trains would be Bakken oil trains which can be 100 cars (or 4,000 feet- almost a mile) long.
One major concern is that a single 4,000 foot long heavy freight diverted from the CP to the BNSF would simultaneously close all four of the Crystal crossings – Douglas Dr (CP), West Broadway (CP), Corvallis (BNSF) and West Broadway (BNSF). This would have an impact on our emergency services vehicles, basically cutting off the northern part of the city from the southern part of the city.
Believe it or not as Section 2 council person Olga Parsons points out, railroads can do pretty much anything they want.
So, how can the train companies plan such a project without appealing to the local community for input and approval? How can they entirely exclude our city council and staff? The Federal Surface Transportation Board and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration regulate the railroad industry. Railroad companies are afforded many liberties, which include the ability to unilaterally carry out projects without any meaningful input from the local community. At this point, the Federal Surface Transportation Board is conducting an Environmental Impact study, and will invite our “input” shortly after its completion. Will our concerns be heard, and taken into serious consideration? Will they amend their plans, and work with us to meet our public safety goals? It’s hard to tell. It appears that Canadian Pacific and BNSF are entirely confident in their plans, and aim to complete the project in 2015.
Not only can railroads do this but it seems like everyone has been caught by surprise at least according to the Sun Post;
Crystal city staff and officials report that the Burlington Northern Sante Fe and Canadian Pacific railroad companies are proposing to construct a “connector track” near the 5100 block of West Broadway Avenue.
City staff fear that the connection “may significantly increase the length and frequency of freight trains running on the BNSF track extending south through Robbinsdale and Golden Valley into Minneapolis,” which could create delays for vehicles crossing at nearby Douglas Drive and Corvallis Avenue, according to a memo written by City Planner John Sutter. The proposed track would allow eastbound and westbound Canadian Pacific trains to travel north or south on the Burlington Northern line, and vice versa. It could also displace three Crystal businesses: Thomas Auto Body/Northwest Suburban Towing, Midwest Mastercraft, and Red Rooster Autoparts.
Sutter’s memo also expressed concern that the longer delays could affect nearby businesses, neighborhoods and response times for emergency personnel. “It has the potential for incredible public safety impacts and, of course, quality of life for the residents who live near the railroads,” said Crystal City Manager Anne Norris.
Kind of like light rail right??
Compounding city and state officials’ fears is the limited impact local agencies have on the railroads’ plans. “We’re somewhat limited because train traffic is essentially federally regulated, so they preempt the ability of state or local agencies to adopt regulations,” said State Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Crystal).
I can’t even comment on that……
Talking points released by Crystal Community Development Director Patrick Peters said that, “The city’s legal counsel have advised that the proposed rail connection is not subject to any local, county or state permitting or review processes,” and that “MnDOT staff indicated their role is to simply assess grade crossing safety.” MnDOT’s Dave Christianson said his department had been in touch with the two railroads and had been given their preliminary plans for the site. He added that community meetings had been suggested, as well.
MNDOT you are as worthless as a $3 bill.
At the state level, Freiberg said there could be money available in an upcoming bonding bill to strategically elevate the track to accommodate emergency vehicles.
So Mr. Freiberg your solution is to go to St. Paul and advocate the deficit spending of other people’s money to give to the railroads to elevate. Christ!
“The geometry of Robbinsdale doesn’t make it easy to do grade separations,” cautioned Robbinsdale City Manager Marcia Glick, referring to a possible elevation of the track or roads that cross over it. Robbinsdale City Councilmember George Selman said that cities’ influence over the connection may be limited to the pull they have with national-level Minnesota legislators like Rep. Keith Ellison and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
When we’re dead in the water then. Mr. Selman why don’t you advocate they change the federal laws!!!!!!!
Several officials interviewed by the Sun Post said they had not heard much, if any, information from either railroad regarding the proposal. Norris and Glick said a meeting had been scheduled between city staffs and railroad representatives in early January, but that meeting was cancelled due to scheduling conflicts. “This has kind of caught everyone by surprise,” said Freiberg. Employees at North Suburban Towing, one of the businesses in the potentially affected area, found out about the proposal second-hand.
Selman said that Robbinsdale’s Windsor Court apartment complex, which sits in the ward he represents, is “five feet” from the tracks. “On the surface, I don’t see much good for Robbinsdale coming out of 100-car, 4,000-foot trains going through town up to 15 times a week at a very slow pace, hauling hazardous, flammable materials within feet of homes. I don’t really see how anybody is going to convince me that is a great plan,” Selman said, adding that those figures were presented at a Jan. 24 meeting between city officials from New Hope, Robbinsdale, Crystal, Golden Valley and Brooklyn Center.“We’d seen some surveyors come through,” said Dave Oyaas, a dispatcher for the towing company. “That same week, the property owner got notified that they’d be coming through here in the future. That’s really all we know. The railroad has shared next to nothing.” Oyaas said the business was told they would have between 60 days and two years to relocate. “We’ll find another place and keep going,” he assured. “We’re not concerned about that.”
This coming from a guy who advocates the return of trolley cars.
Burlington Northern Spokesperson Amy McBeth said the railroads’ proposal is still in early planning stages, and that representatives were talking to affected property owners about purchasing their property. No final agreement, design, or plan has been decided upon, she added. “The point of the project is to relieve bottlenecks in the region and to better utilize existing rail infrastructure,” McBeth said of the connection. “There are many other locations in the region, similarly, where railroads connect with each other and railroads operate on each other’s tracks.”
She declined to go into specifics about the cost of the railroad, but said the connection would be constructed at Burlington Northern’s expense and that the railroad would like to begin work “later this year.”
So it’s the usual corporate talking points.
McBeth added that the connection plan would need to be reviewed by the Surface Transportation Board, a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Transportation. A spokesperson for the transportation board said no plans had been filed as of Jan. 29 and declined to comment on the specific review procedures that would apply until a filing had been made.
Peters’ talking points state that the transportation board is responsible for issuing a “certificate of authorization” for the connection and would direct any necessary environmental review process. McBeth said that roughly one train per day runs along the Burlington Northern line through Robbinsdale. Those trains typically have 10-20 cars, the average length of which is about 50 feet, she added.
Spokesperson Andy Cummings said Canadian Pacific runs approximately 25 trains through it’s “corridor” in Crystal every 24 hours, but those numbers can vary based on customer need. The average length of a train, system-wide, is 6,683 feet, he said. Cummings declined to offer a comment on the proposed connection itself.
Here is a video from Channel 12 about this project featuring Jeff Kolb;
The main concern for most seems to be the bottled up traffic and whether emergency vehicles can gain access if needed. To me, although those are big concerns, the real concern is the unlimited eminent domain power of railroads. This has to be dealt with and my guess is that nothing will change.