Union Pacific Railroad Co. is steaming ahead with a $25 million plan to upgrade its rail yard in South St. Paul after receiving the City Council's blessing.
The city last week signed a memorandum of understanding with the rail company to "set forth their mutual understandings, to establish processes to address community concerns and to facilitate the negotiation of certain binding agreements," the agreement read in part. Union Pacific also agreed to provide hazardous materials response training to some of the city's first responders. The company would build or extend tracks within the existing freight yard along the Mississippi River, according to regional spokesman Mark Davis.
Davis said the improvements would "increase the movements of trains" and give them more fluidity within the rail yard.
The project is in its "intermediate design phase," he said, with no clear timetable for when construction could begin.
Since the construction would be taking place on its own property, Union Pacific will not have to buy or lease any land from the city or private businesses but has agreed to give South St. Paul continued access to Kaposia Landing, where the city is building a park.
Some officials also expressed concern about the transportation of crude oil through the city, but Union Pacific officials assured them that most of the trains passing through South St. Paul were hauling sand for regional fracking operations.
"In terms of directly impinging on the operations of the railroad, the city does not have a lot of direct authority. That is considered a matter of interstate commerce and is regulated at the federal level. However, there are a number of ways, a number of areas that we do need cooperation, collaboration," City Administrator Stephen King said at the June 2 council meeting. "Out of that conversation that we had over months, we developed an understanding and promises of accommodation in several areas."
The reaction to the rail yard proposal from neighboring communities was hopeful.
Tom Link, Inver Grove Heights' community development director, said he was hopeful that the improvements would cut down on rail traffic through the city since Union Pacific "might not store as many trains on the line in Inver Grove Heights."
"Sometimes the trains will stop and will kind of wait on the rail line that goes through Inver Grove Heights, so the increased capacity in the rail yard will hopefully reduce that," Link said.
The project would extend six tracks by 4,000 feet each and the "north switching lead" by 3,000 feet, build two new 1,500-foot tracks and add a 8,600-foot bypass track, Davis said. A later phase of the work would construct a 4,000-foot bypass track.
Union Pacific has invested about $4.1 billion in infrastructure improvements in its facilities across the country, company officials said.
Davis said that in coming up with its rail yard improvement plan, the company recognized the vital role the railroads have played in the city's history, dating back to the days when South St. Paul was a major livestock market.