The Canadian Pacific Railway will be increasing its maximum operating speed in a seven-mile stretch of track spanning Crystal, New Hope and Plymouth late this month or in early February.
CP trains will double their maximum speed from 20 to 40 miles per hour in Crystal and New Hope, and will raise their speed limit from 25 to 40 mph in Plymouth.
Elected officials contacted in Plymouth said they were notified of CP's plan on Jan. 17. They had not heard any protests from residents so far, but they expect that to change as the speed increase is phased in.
"I have a feeling that there will be some concern over the increase in the speed limit," said Kelly Slavik, mayor of Plymouth. "There are homes not too far from the tracks, and we have several crossings in Plymouth as well, so I expect people will have some concerns as far as safety goes."
Railroads are federally regulated, so the cities were not involved in the decision and have no direct leverage to negotiate with the railway.
CP's decision to increase the speed limit comes on the heels of months of planning and construction work to lay new track and upgrade rail infrastructure. CP spokesman Ed Greenberg also noted that the speed limit already is 40 mph in Hamel, just west of Plymouth, and will still be set at 20 mph starting at W. Broadway heading into the city of Crystal.
"We take this type of project very seriously, so we're going to make sure as a company that we do our due diligence, and that involves ensuring that the necessary notifications and agreements are in place, as well as final inspections of the track," said Greenberg.
Greenberg said that the decision to upgrade the tracks for a speed increase was made to improve traffic flow at crossings and to increase shipping efficiency.
Numerous safety upgrades have been implemented in the past few years at railroad crossings in the west metro, but cities have had a rocky relationship with CP.
"In the past, when we have tried to work with [CP] as far as reducing the number of trains, or even just making changes to the crossings, we've met resistance," said Slavik. She said she has not had any contact with CP regarding the speed limit increase, however.
Plymouth City Council Member Judy Johnson lives a few blocks from the crossing on Vicksburg Lane and will be monitoring the effect of the speed increase closely. She said it is too early to tell what, if any, effect there will be on the neighborhood.
Johnson noted that Vicksburg Lane will be receiving significant upgrades in the coming years and will eventually have an elevated bridge constructed over the crossing for both vehicles and pedestrians.
CP reminds citizens of these railroad crossing safety tips: Do not attempt to drive around activated crossing gates, never walk on railroad tracks and, if your car stalls on the tracks, get out and call 911. It takes 1 to 1.5 miles for a train to stop.
"Safety is a key component of any project, even when it involves seven miles of track," said Greenberg. "It's a top priority for CP, no matter what the regulated track speed is."
Ben Johnson is a Twin Cities freelance writer.