The pieces of art hung on Ron Okenfuss' living room walls are almost always straight.

He credits the trains.

After more than 10 years living near the tracks, he's gotten in the habit of constantly straightening pictures shaken by the daily rumbling.

The increasing presence of trains influences day-to-day life in this St. Paul neighborhood, where houses lining dead-end streets on Lake Como's southern end come within feet of the tracks.

"You always have to think in the back of your head, 'OK, what if there's a derailment and something weird happens?' " Okenfuss said.

Derailment worries have escalated as residents have found themselves on a route frequented by North Dakota oil trains. The neighborhood was included in a recent Minnesota Department of Transportation study evaluating the risks associated with potential oil train explosions and fires. With those risks in mind, residents say they'd support the $25 million bridge the study suggests as a safety precaution, despite concerns about the effect of such a project on the neighborhood's character.

Therese and Richard Kelly have lived in the neighborhood since 1975 and remember when residents' biggest concern was pollution from the trains. They also remember accidents, including a derailment, though those trains weren't carrying flammable Bakken crude oil.

"Now, with fire potential, it's really raised a red flag in the neighborhood," Therese Kelly said.

Oil trains often stop on their way through the area, she said, spending anywhere from five minutes to half an hour waiting for track to open up. It can make it tough to get out of the neighborhood — something she said has become more worrisome now, considering that a derailment could trigger a major evacuation.

The MnDOT study comes a year after Casselton, N.D. — a town 24 miles west of Fargo — was evacuated after an oil train derailment caused explosions and a fire. In the event of such an incident here, the surrounding half-mile radius would be evacuated. That radius measured from the Como Avenue crossing — an area with rows of old houses and three nearby schools — is the most densely populated of 100 sites included in the study.

The bridge suggested in the MnDOT report would separate rail and street traffic. Lawmakers have raised concerns about the project's price tag and potential impact on the neighborhood's environment and livability.

Therese Kelly said she'd support the bridge, though she'd want the railroad company to carry the cost.

"I feel that it would be an asset to the neighborhood," she said.

Okenfuss agreed, though he said he's not too worried about an accident. Ultimately, he said, the Como neighborhood's assets — namely, the nearby park and lake — outweigh any liabilities the railway line might bring. It's an old neighborhood, and the trains have always been part of it. "It's not like you bought your house and then had a surprise rail line behind you," he said.

Emma Nelson • 952-746-3287