Minnesota Rail Safety Upgrades Will Cost $243M

January 2, 2015

Upgrading Minnesota railroad crossings on highways and roads where passing oil trains from North Dakota pose a risk of explosions and fires will cost at least $243 million, Minnesota transportation officials said Wednesday.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation said some of the state’s highest-risk grade crossings are just across the North Dakota-Minnesota border on the BNSF Railway tracks running through Moorhead. Another hazardous and highly populated area is on the BNSF line just southeast of Como Lake in St. Paul, the report said.

Other hazardous grade crossings that would require expensive upgrades – typically bridges to separate the rail and road traffic – are in Willmar, Coon Rapids, Anoka, Perham, Benson and Ramsey, the Star Tribune reported.

The report, mandated by the 2014 Legislature, comes a year after a BNSF Railway train derailed in Casselton, North Dakota, triggering explosions and a fire that caused an evacuation but no injuries in the town 24 miles west of Fargo, North Dakota.

“The basic premise for effective improvements is safety,” Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said in a statement Wednesday. “We are facing a continuing presence of crude-by-rail shipments across Minnesota. The safer transport of crude oil will reduce the public’s exposure to derailments, spills and fires that have already occurred in other states.”

The price for the most expensive projects ranges from $10 million to $50 million each, the report said. The 2014 Legislature appropriated $2 million to address the problem. Since that isn’t enough to fix any of the highest risk crossings, the state Transportation Department recommended spending it on at least 10 smaller projects, including closing a road in St. Paul Park and improving warning signals at various places, including Elk River, Perham and Winona.

Fixing grade crossings is generally considered a state responsibility because railroad tracks predate roads and highways.

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