The proposed light-rail transit project through the Southwest Corridor must balance a number of competing interests, including freight-rail service. The Metropolitan Council has presented several options for accommodating light-rail, bicycle, pedestrian and freight traffic in various relocation and co-location configurations.
Recent media coverage, including a Star Tribune story (“LRT corridor fight nears a crossroad,” July 14), may have left room for some to misunderstand our company’s position on these alternatives.
Twin Cities & Western (TC&W) Railroad has been operating since 1991, serving shippers all along our route between the Twin Cities and eastern South Dakota. In 1998, TC&W’s operations were relocated from the Midtown Greenway freight-rail corridor to the Kenilworth corridor, which has been home to freight-rail service for more than 100 years.
Since the first LRT discussions began seven years ago, we have made it clear that we would be cooperative, making a good-faith effort to consider seriously any relocation proposals that would allow us to continue to operate as safely and economically as we do now.
Unfortunately, the initial relocation plan in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) featured sharp turns and steep grades that did not meet freight railroad safety standards, a point made to officials and their consultants long before the DEIS came out. Federal regulators shared our concerns and directed local planners to resolve the freight-rail issue satisfactorily before seeking federal funds for the project.
We have not sought to be relocated. We have emphasized the need to continue safe and economic freight service to our customers as we have for the past 22 years. Despite suggestions to the contrary, we have avoided taking sides with one community or another as they have sought allies for or against various options.
Instead, recognizing the importance of LRT to Minnesota’s people and environment, we have spent hours analyzing each and every location option to understand its potential impact on our operations. This is to ensure that we do not unfairly reject any option that might actually be workable. It is also to ensure that we fulfill our duties to our customers, whose interests are protected under federal law.
Federal policy requires that LRT planners accommodate freight-rail service as they develop their final routing solutions. Freight railroads have an obligation to provide a specified minimum level of service to all customer groups at reasonable prices. This is considered vital to our national, state and local economies.
Each rail car of freight represents 3.5 semitrailer trucks not on Twin Cities roads. The efficiency of moving freight via rail is the equivalent of a 2-ton passenger car getting 218 miles to the gallon. Freight rail is fuel efficient, reduces road congestion and reduces greenhouse gas emissions vs. moving freight via truck.
A potential loss of freight service or a dramatic increase in costs has an impact on those directly affected by the change, but also on others indirectly. If the railroad stops operating, or if costs are driven too high, shippers can’t get their goods to market, so they go out of business. Jobs are lost, tax revenues drop, manufacturing and processing buildings are left empty, property values decline, and our economy is irreparably damaged.
The final LRT plan must not harm TC&W’s ability to continue to serve its customers safely and economically. Our company has operated in relative harmony with neighbors in its current location for many years, and would be happy to continue doing so.
But we must seriously consider each and every relocation and co-location option on the table. As we evaluate those options for their impact on our ability to move freight safely and economically across this great state, we are simply fulfilling our responsibility under federal law.
Mark Wegner is president, Twin Cities & Western Railroad.