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Continued: Railroad flexes its muscle over Southwest LRT

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 12, 2013 - 10:00 PM

Mark Fuhrmann, who oversees Met Council transit development, said that the agency did not compensate the TC & W and that Met Council light-rail projects have never paid a private interest to develop environmental impact comments.

“Highly unusual request,” Fuhrmann said when asked recently about the e-mail.

“The council respects the independence of private parties to develop and provide comments to Met Council on Southwest LRT,” Fuhrmann said. “That independence is maintained by the council not assisting in any way with the development of business or citizen comments.”

Wegner, in an interview, said he didn’t seek compensation for time spent developing the response to the earlier reroute, but for work the railroad expected to do with agency engineers in early 2013 to design new reroute options.

Wegner said he withdrew his request after concluding that the compensation wouldn’t be worth the effort. “Plus, how would we be perceived?” he asked. “I don’t want anyone to think we are in any way, shape or form trying to benefit out of this whole process.”

Wegner said the railroad only wanted to make sure that any St. Louis Park reroute maintained the capacity the railroad currently has in the Kenilworth corridor, where its tracks are more level and straight and can accommodate longer trains. “The rail industry trend is toward longer and longer trains,” he said.

At a recent meeting, Peter Wagenius, an aide to Rybak, cited the railroad’s clout over reroute options and questioned the need for the $200 million reroute, remarking, “It sure seems the railroads are not asking for what they need, but for everything they want.”

Rift over reroute

In late February, Wegner complained that the Met Council wasn’t moving quickly to address the railroad’s concerns about a reroute, and he questioned whether the agency and its consultants were up to the task.

“Without the necessary freight railroad expertise, it will be difficult for the engineers hired by Met Council to understand our objections to the reroute design … or to craft an acceptable alternative,” he wrote.

He noted that the Federal Transit Administration also expressed concerns about the earlier reroute design in a September 2011 letter that found “sharp curvature, steep grades” and other problems.

“Despite the passage of almost one and one-half years … the Met Council has not presented an analysis or a revised design,” Wegner wrote.

In response, Alexander e-mailed Wegner: “Thanks for the information and your comments.” He said he’d forward it to consultants. “I look forward to continue working with you and the other railroad companies as well as city and county staff to develop an acceptable design.”

In May, the agency announced eight options for dealing with the freight and the light-rail trains — including the current version of a freight reroute through St. Louis Park costing roughly $200 million that Wegner said satisfied his safety concerns. He declined to comment on recent efforts to look for a better reroute.

Met Council spokeswoman Laura Baenen said that the agency and the railroad “developed a collaborative relationship” leading to that new reroute option.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504

  • Reroute Review

    The agency planning the Southwest light-rail project said Wednesday that a consultant may look at whether freight traffic could be rerouted through St. Louis Park without putting it on two-story berms.

    Under one possibilty, the freight tracks would follow the same path but not be elevated. Or, the freight would follow a route similar to one rejected previously by the railroad because of curves.

    Metropolitan Council engineers plan to meet this month with Transportation Technology Center, Inc., of Pueblo, Colo., to consider alternatives to the berms, which have drawn opposition from city officials and residents in St. Louis Park. Agency chair Susan Haigh said Wednesday that it would postponed a meeting to wait for the analysis.

    The agency had offered to put the tracks on berms to avoid slopes after the Twin Cities & Western Railroad denounced plans to run them at ground level at varying elevations as unsafe. Agency engineer Jim Alexander said the consultant might “tweak it a little bit” so its acceptable to the railroad, whose cooperation will likely be needed to approve any reroute.

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