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Continued: Buffalo getting impatient with old No. 9 (and 10, and 11 ...)

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 16, 2014 - 6:22 PM

In Rockford, between Minneapolis and Buffalo on the CP line, Ben Sanderson, chief of the volunteer fire department, said he’s twice been unable to respond to calls due to blocked tracks. The issue has not been weighed by the City Council, “but it could be if a [fire] truck gets caught,” he said.

The blockages in Buffalo haven’t had any tragic consequences, even though the railroad separates the hospital and the ambulance service from the older, more densely populated part of town, including downtown and a nursing home.

But nearly everyone with a driver’s license in the Wright County city of 16,000 people seems to have a story of getting stuck on the way home with a car full of hungry kids or being late for work or experiencing the sinking feeling of seeing the stop arms come down and knowing the wait could be 10, 15, 20 minutes or more.

Andy Bihl, who delivers sandwiches for the proudly prompt Jimmy John’s, says deliveries that ought to take eight or nine minutes sometimes take a half-hour. He said he usually waits for trains to clear intersections, rather than embark on the sometimes-futile scramble to find an open intersection nearby.

“I get paid by the hour,” he explained.

Ron Enter, owner of Wright Lumber and Millwork, right at Central Avenue and the train tracks, said that while backups affect “everybody,” most Buffalo residents seem to regard it as the price of living in a city where the rumble and horns of freight trains have long been a round-the-clock feature.

CP: Big part of the landscape

The CP, which took control of the old Soo Line about 20 years ago, has a strong presence in Minnesota.

The Twin Cities area is its U.S. headquarters, and it has about 1,500 employees across Minnesota.

It operates 1,200 miles of freight lines in the state, second by a narrow margin only to BNSF. Its tracks run from the Twin Cities to western and northwestern Minnesota, as well as across the southern part of the state.

Thousands of Minnesotans have enjoyed its Holiday Train, which every December stops at cities across Minnesota, Canada and the rest of the United States to raise money and food for food banks.

Greenberg, the CP spokesman, said 16 to 18 trains per day pass through Buffalo, an average that’s been about the same for some time.

But he added that officials are aware that clogged crossings have been creating problems in Buffalo.

He said the company has reviewed the long blockages in November and February and intends to “take a closer look” at crew scheduling, to try to avoid other situations in which crews might walk away from parked trains.

He also said the company is looking into why the train in the November blockage wasn’t split to allow traffic through.

“We regret the events that occurred, and we want to look into their concerns, and take steps to address them,” Greenberg said. “We certainly want to continue to have a positive relationship with Buffalo, because we do value that community.”

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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