An executive with BNSF Railway has told the Metropolitan Council — again — that the company is not interested in sharing its rail corridor with the proposed $1.5 billion Bottineau Blue Line light-rail project.
In an letter Tuesday, Richard E. Weicher, BNSF’s vice president and senior general counsel, said the Texas-based rail company is “not prepared to proceed with any discussion of passenger rail in this corridor at this time.” The letter was addressed to Daniel Soler, the Bottineau Blue Line’s project director.
“As we explained in discussions some time ago, and again as recently as February, we do not believe the Blue Line light-rail project would be consistent with our passenger principles or protect the long-term viability of freight service” in the corridor north of Minneapolis. (Weicher wrote a similar letter to the council earlier this year.)
The 13-mile Blue Line extension would link downtown Minneapolis with Brooklyn Park, operating along 8 miles of right of way owned by the Texas-based rail giant. The council, which is planning and building the project, must negotiate with BNSF to share the alignment north of Minneapolis.
Without an agreement in place with BNSF, the council cannot apply for $753 million in federal funding.
In a letter to mayors along the proposed Bottineau route sent this week, Met Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff said she was “ disappointed to receive this response again without any further details on how the BLRT design is inconsistent with their passenger principles.”
Tchourumoff said she will be discussing a response with the Hennepin County commissioners to “develop a strategy for next steps with BNSF. In the meantime, staff are continuing to advance the project.”
County Commissioner Mike Opat said, “We have an alignment, it’s good alignment, and we can certainly accommodate freight and passenger service in that very wide corridor. We’ll continue to try to engage them, and we’ll seek advocates to help us get them to the table.” Opat declined to elaborate on who those advocates might be.
“This is too important a project to not continue to work on it,” he said.
Last year, negotiations with BNSF over a mile-long stretch on the Southwest light-rail route in Minneapolis resulted in the council agreeing to erect a $20 million crash-protection wall to separate freight and light-rail trains.