The words were encouraging: A railroad had accepted a new route for its freight trains to make room for the Twin Cities’ biggest light-rail project.
But now the consultant who designed the new route has backtracked from the written assurances. “That is not correct; it’s my fault that it says that,” Jim Terry said this week.
And Mark Wegner, president of Twin Cities & Western Railroad, said Tuesday, “We did not agree to that … It’s very unfortunate that there’s been this false excitement before we’ve had a chance to look at it.”
Last week the Metropolitan Council, the agency overseeing the Southwest Corridor light-rail project, released the consultant’s report that showed a new viable plan for rerouting freight from Minneapolis to St. Louis Park. But in response to questions Monday from St. Louis Park activists, Terry said he meant to report that the reroute drew encouraging signals from the Canadian Pacific railway, which owns the line, not TC&W, which would move freight traffic onto it.
TC&W’s support is considered critical because it has influence over whether the federal government permits rerouting the freight traffic out of the Kenilworth corridor of Minneapolis, where the Southwest light-rail line would run near recreational trails. The railroad has objected to other freight reroute plans considered over the years. One option it accepted last year stalled after St. Louis Park officials and residents opposed it.
Minneapolis legislators and city officials were encouraged last week that the latest reroute plan, designed by TranSystems of Kansas City, might prove acceptable. It was designed to avoid the two-story berms that were part of the earlier plan that drew opposition in St. Louis Park.
The nearly 16-mile Southwest line would run from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis and is scheduled to open in 2018. But to meet that schedule, planners will probably need to decide by this summer what to do with the area’s freight traffic. Moving it to St. Louis Park would allow running the light-rail trains at ground level in the Kenilworth recreational corridor. Keeping freight trains in the corridor would require digging tunnels nearby for the light rail.
TranSystems was hired to look for new freight reroute possibilities after Gov. Mark Dayton agreed in October to delay the Southwest project in response to mounting opposition. The firm’s announcement of the new route last week said “both CP [Canadian Pacific] and TC&W staff have reviewed this concept and concur that the geometry of the concept is acceptable for TC&W’s freight operations.”
‘It was very premature’
Terry, a principal of TranSystems, was questioned about that statement Monday night at a meeting of a Southwest advisory panel. “That should have read CP and not Twin Cities & Western,” he said.
He said Canadian Pacific was consulted and said it was “good to go” if TC&W approved.
“Our engineers are looking at the details,” Wegner said. “It was very premature to say we were OK with what he was doing.”
Metropolitan Council engineer Jim Alexander said TC&W and Canadian Pacific need to agree to a freight traffic reroute before planners will move forward with one. “We have not talked to TC&W,” he said, adding, “We essentially left this as an independent study.”
Without an acceptable freight traffic reroute, Southwest planners have proposed running the light-rail line in two tunnels in the Kenilworth corridor near the freight and recreational trails. Another study released last week concluded that the tunnels would not harm nearby lake water.