Canadian Pacific Railway has offered a new operating plan aimed at allaying concerns raised by residents and officials in several northern Ramsey County communities after a marked increase in train traffic and switching operations over the past several months.
The issues include train horns blowing at all hours of the night; trains blocking crossings for 20-30 minutes, beyond the 10 minutes allowed by law, sometimes backing traffic onto Interstate 694; idling train engines spewing diesel fumes; and a number of environmental hazards.
Some of the biggest concerns focused on an area in Shoreview called Cardigan Junction, where two rail lines converge in a triangular area bordered by I-694, Vadnais Lake and Grass Lake. The junction, local residents told the Star Tribune earlier this month, was being used for switching operations that had not been conducted there previously. The sound of train cars crashing together around the clock had become particularly onerous.
Residents and officials from Shoreview, Little Canada, Vadnais Heights, Arden Hills and Roseville, along with Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman and a representative from the office of Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., met with Canadian Pacific at least twice in the past several weeks to discuss a range of health and safety issues that have arisen as traffic has increased.
Starting on Nov. 17, Canadian Pacific began implementing changes, said Ed Greenberg, the company’s Minneapolis-based spokesman. “We have taken steps that we feel address those concerns raised at those meetings,” he said.
Greenberg pointed out that the railroad must still abide by safety regulations, which are paramount, and also continue to serve its customers.
The plan includes a reduction in rail car switching, ensuring crews are applying train whistles appropriately and taking steps to reduce any stopping on local crossings.
Canadian Pacific has found other areas on its rail network away from Cardigan Junction where it can conduct its switching operations with Canadian National Railway. That should reduce the amount of night operations, train noise, potential for blocked crossings and train idling, Greenberg said.
Operating crews will be monitored to ensure their use of locomotive whistles follows Federal Railroad Administration guidelines, which are designed to prevent accidents at grade crossings. Train stops on grade crossings in the Shoreview area also will be monitored.
The railroad is also installing a closed-circuit camera at Cardigan Junction along its track for internal use only. This will enable the railroad to check immediately on operations when residents raise issues, he said.
Sandy Martin, mayor of Shoreview, who has heard a lot of train-related complaints in recent months, was among local leaders who met with Canadian Pacific.
“We received the proposal on Friday,” she said. “I think it’s encouraging and helpful that they have really listened to our community.”
The city, like its neighbor, Little Canada, is still going forward with a $12,000 study looking at setting up one or more “quiet zones” at grade crossings. The zones keep train horns from blowing, but as a trade-off, gates, lights and other improvements must be added to each crossing at a cost of about $250,000.
Likening the situation to what airports have done to help nearby residents with noise abatement, Martin is hopeful the railroad could help defray those costs.
“It seems only fair that they would collaborate and help with that,” she said.