Crystal and Hennepin County Railroad Legislation

Several bills heard this session surround a railroad project in Crystal, Minnesota, that could have broad implications around the state. The project is a connector track at an intersection between BNSF and Canadian Pacific (CP) railroad lines. Currently, the east-west (CP) track and the north-south (BNSF) track do not connect. About 24 trains a day travel on east-west CP track and a few per week go on the north-south BNSF track.

If the connector is built, the track would see a large increase in its volume of trains running north-south. This concerns many local officials as it would allow mile-long trains carrying oil and potentially other hazardous materials through Theo Wirth Park, across I-94, near Target Field, and through downtown Minneapolis.

The proposed track would also affect the ability of first responders to get to emergencies in Crystal and Robbinsdale. The new track would block numerous at-grade crossings with increased volume and the increased length of trains. A blocked intersection would require first responders to add roughly two to three miles to trips from the south side of Crystal, where the first responders are housed, to the north side.

An additional concern is the effects this proposal would have on several local businesses. There are three businesses on the path of the new connector that would have to be moved in order for the project to be completed.

The three pieces of legislation surrounding this project seek to delay or move the project to a different area:

Resolution for an Environmental Impact Statement

The first piece of legislation is a resolution on behalf of the Minnesota Legislature urging the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to order BNSF and CP to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) prior to acquiring land, completing final design, or beginning construction of a railroad connector track in the City of Crystal. (S.F. 866)

Requiring an Environmental Impact Statement

This legislation sets specific parameters when an EIS must be completed on the project. Under the legislation, MnDOT would complete the EIS, and no construction would begin and no governmental decision granting authority for the project may occur until the Commissioner deems the EIS is adequate. This would ensure a thorough environmental review is performed before a project like this changes the character of the community. (S.F. 1074)

Limiting Eminent Domain Powers of a Railroad Company or Corporation

As concerns mount around the length of trains and their effects on first responders getting to emergency situations quickly, public officials are looking for more tools to reduce blocked road connections. This bill is one way to address this issue.

The legislation limits eminent domain power of a railroad corporation or company can exercise over property owned by Hennepin County, the Hennepin County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, or the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority if the government power, by resolution, determines that the public safety or access of first responders would be negatively affected. (S.F. 1251)

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