Neighbors in 5 Ramsey County suburbs rail against disruption from trains

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 11, 2013 - 6:07 AM

Increased traffic carries a cargo of noise, fumes, rattling windows.

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Shoreview neighbors Jan Bunde, left, and Marcia Figus live near the train tracks at Cardigan Junction. Figus said she had to cancel Thanksgiving plans at her house this year because of rail noise and fumes.

Photo: DAVID JOLES • djoles@startribune.com,

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For decades, residents in five northern Ramsey County communities, drawn to nearby lakes, nice parks and quiet streets, have coexisted mostly in harmony with the Canadian Pacific Railway line running through on its way to and from St. Paul.

Beginning last spring, however, that changed.

Residents say trains — some with more than 100 cars — are now coming through, announcing their approach with blaring horns day and night, turning a mere nuisance into a serious health and safety threat. In Shoreview, in an area called Cardigan Junction where two east/west and north/south rail lines converge, switching operations were ramped up significantly this summer, and rail cars booming together literally rattle the walls of nearby homes. Fumes from idling diesel engines drive families from their back yards. Trains stall at crossings for 20 to 30 minutes.

“It’s more than just the noise,” said Marcia Figus, who lives in the Cardigan Junction neighborhood about 500 feet from the Canadian Pacific tracks. “And it’s 24/7. … You just can’t sleep. In 40 years of living here, it’s never been like this.”

Over the summer, Figus tried sleeping in different rooms of her house to escape the noise, including in a lawn chair in her basement and in a bathtub. She’s had to put cushions in her windows and between her patio doors to keep them from rattling.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” added Jan Bunde, who lives down the block from Figus. Other neighbors have children who have struggled with sleep and breathing problems from the fumes. “Some days, it is just unbelievable how it permeates the air,” she said. “Using our yard has become almost nonexistent.”

Figus, a retired chemistry teacher, is also concerned about fueling operations going on at the junction, oil and other filth being cleaned off cars and the increased number of rail cars passing through that carry flammable substances like petroleum, chlorine, ammonia and benzene.

“This is an accident waiting to happen,” Figus said.

Cities, railroad respond

Besides Shoreview, residents in the cities of Little Canada, Vadnais Heights, Roseville and Arden Hills over the past few months have been complaining for the past several months about disruption from trains, said Blake Huffman, the Ramsey County commissioner who represents the area.

Residents and leaders from those cities, along with representatives from U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum’s office, have had two private meetings with Canadian Pacific Railway to discuss the concerns, including one Thursday night. The hope is that the discussions will lead to an equitable resolution.

The problem at Cardigan Junction, Huffman said, is that “the yard is now being used in a way that is not suitable to the neighborhood.”

“When you’re dealing with something like this, it’s bad — but if you know it’s going to stop next week, you can kind of put up with it,” he said. “Right now, there’s no end in sight.”

Ed Greenberg, Canadian Pacific Railway’s Minneapolis-based spokesman, said the company is taking the issues seriously. Officials who were part of the meetings will review the railroad’s operations in the area to see where any changes can be made as soon as possible.

“Our company is committed to working with them,” he said, but acknowledged the railroad also has an obligation to its customers. “It’s a balance, and we really respect the feedback that we’ve received.”

Train traffic has been increasing this year, he said, in response to increased demand. An average of four to eight trains are now running through the area each day.

Huffman said the increased traffic reflects three factors: an improving economy, a busy grain shipping season and the oil boom in western North Dakota, prompting more shipments of oil to the east and frac sand to the west.

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