Freight rail: It's safety first for St. Louis Park

  • Article by: THOM MILLER and JAMI LAPRAY
  • Updated: March 13, 2014 - 6:15 PM

While welcoming Southwest LRT, we also believe that options exist to keep freight rail right where it is.

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With a number of key decisions and votes approaching on the Southwest light-rail line and the accompanying question of freight rail, it’s important for all parties to understand the position of Safety in the Park and many St. Louis Park citizens.

 

We look forward to the introduction of Southwest LRT. We believe it will benefit St. Louis Park in myriad ways — from employment opportunities to transit-oriented development, and more. Instead of denying outright any type of freight rail reroute, we have always espoused a clear position: If no other viable option exists, a St. Louis Park freight rail reroute is acceptable only if our community remains as safe as it is today.

Fifteen years of consultant studies, community meetings, environmental-impact statements, and countless hours of work by elected officials and staff members have come to two definite conclusions. First, several viable options exist for keeping the freight traffic right where it is today. Second, the only safe way to reroute Bass Lake Spur freight traffic to the MN&S track would mean taking multiple homes, businesses and schools; building ramps, bridges and berms; and rebuilding streets and highways. This would take an enormous toll on St. Louis Park and we cannot abide it when other viable options exist. It is clear that the St. Louis Park City Council, the St. Louis Park school board and all of our state legislators agree on this point.

Other facts have come to light during the last several years via diligent research. We now know that St. Louis Park never agreed to a reroute; that Minneapolis agreed that the Kenilworth bike trail would be temporary; that the Minnesota Department of Transportation always considered the Twin Cities and Western Railroad’s use of Kenilworth permanent; that no entity can force a railroad to take an inferior route, and that federal authorities not only never asked for freight and light rail to be considered separately but connected the two officially.

We understand that freight trains will continue to run on the relatively safe St. Louis Park Bass Lake Spur and the Wayzata Subdivision corridors. Regardless of co-location or relocation, the freight trains in question will continue to run through St. Louis Park. And we know, as freight lines go, that these aforementioned corridors are economically efficient, safe and reliable.

For all of these reasons, we demand that the Metropolitan Council, Hennepin County, MnDOT and other government agencies formally reject in perpetuity further study of new connections of the MN&S to the Bass Lake Spur and the Wayzata Subdivision. Ultimately, we hope to work with city, county, state and private concerns to see the northern St. Louis Park section of the MN&S — from the Bass Lake Spur to the Wayzata Subdivision — abandoned altogether. Consultants concur that other safer, more efficient freight corridors extend to the same destinations.

We look forward to using Southwest LRT in our community, and we take pride that we have helped move it closer to reality by advocating for safer, easier, less-expensive options for the adjacent freight rail. We hope that the Met Council will apply what it has learned from this project to the future Bottineau line, which will be co-located with freight rail for nearly its entire run.

 

Thom Miller and Jami LaPray are co-chairs of Safety in the Park.

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