A freight rail reroute plan proposed by a Metropolitan Council consultant received a harsh assessment from a railroad company’s own consultant, leading the railroad company to reject the idea.
Twin Cities and Western Railroad announced Feb. 20 that it would not agree to a reroute idea by a Kansas City, Mo., firm that would make way for Southwest Light Rail Transit passenger trains traveling along a current freight rail route in Minneapolis. The Met Council consultant, TranSystems, had proposed a freight rail route through St. Louis Park along the existing Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern line that runs between Park Spanish Immersion School and St. Louis Park High School.
TC&W’s consultant, South Dakota-based engineering firm Civil Design Inc., raised numerous problems with the reroute idea, including its lack of conformance to standards for Class 1 railroad construction standards, three reverse curves the company said would make derailments significantly more likely, bridges that could create higher maintenance and repair costs and potential freight transportation delays due to interactions with other rail carriers that would own the track rights for the rerouted line.
“You don’t build passenger aircraft to meet minimum safety standards; you don’t build road bridges to meet minimum weight standards. These designs have numerous safety redundancies built in,” said TC&W President Mark Wegner in a statement. “When state and federal authorities are looking at freight rail options here in the Twin Cities, it’s hard to imagine them taking the position that a less safe route is preferable to our current route.”
In its report, Civil Design Inc. President Carey Bretsch wrote, “The proposed alignment by Transystems is by no means an improvement in the operating conditions for the TC&W over its current alignment. In fact, the operating conditions proposed by the Transystems alignment would be detrimental in every respect to current and future operating conditions for the TC&W.”
If the rail company were to accept the reroute alignment TranSystems proposed, TC&W would experience delays in deliveries that would increase its expenses, would have additional maintenance expenses, would have to charge its customers more and would experience decreased safety, Bretsch wrote. The change would “ultimately threaten the long term viability of the entire transportation system on which it operates.”
The TranSystems route is contrary to “all of the goals” in the National Rail Plan, including speed and reliability, safety, fuel efficiency and emissions, according to Civil Design Inc.’s report.
TranSystems personnel told Civil Design Inc. staff that the proposed alignment is acceptable because trains traverse similar alignments in many locations, the Civil Design Inc. report states. Civil Design’s report counters that the examples provided by TranSystems have been in place since long trains consisted of 20 cars. Long trains now can exceed 120 cars in length.
“Certainly no railroad would accept such an alignment today if there were any other choice,” the Civil Design Inc. report states.
Officials with Canadian Pacific, which owns the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern line, have said they prefer the status quo, meaning that the company prefers that TC&W not operate along the line, according to the report.
“The current Kenilworth alignment is significantly better than the proposed Transystems alignment,” the report states. “It would not be fair to the current and future customers of the TC&W to introduce a problematic alignment to replace a trouble free alignment, nor would it be good practice from a safety perspective. The proposed alignment by Transystems is certainly not close to an equivalent route through the Kenilworth alignment.”
Class 1 standards are important because Twin Cities and Western Railroad interchanges with three Class 1 railroads in St. Paul.
“In order for TC&W’s customers to participate in the North American freight rail marketplace, the mainline track structure and the customer’s facilities must comply with the Class 1 Railroad’s standards, of which they currently comply,” the report states. “The proposed alignment by Transystems does not comply with any of the three Class 1 railroad’s mainline standards for new construction.”
The report went into minute and extensive detail on engineering concerns with the TranSystems alignment. It states that the TranSystems plan is basically a modification of a previous reroute plan Twin Cities and Western rejected as unsafe. Civil Design Inc. notes that in its analysis of that plan researchers had quoted a national engineering standards guide warning that “reversing curves should be avoided at all costs.” The engineering guide states that an effect created by use of the curves “greatly increases the likelihood of the train buckling and thus a derailment.”
The report also notes that TC&W worked with Met Council engineers to find an acceptable re-route.
A Southwest Corridor Management Committee rejected that reroute option, which included high berms, in favor of a plan to continue routing the freight trains along their current alignment in Minneapolis with light rail trains buried in a set of tunnels. However, Gov. Mark Dayton’s declaration that the freight rail problem needed more study led the Metropolitan Council to delay a final vote in favor of hiring TranSystems.
The Metropolitan Council has not announced a timeline for making a decision on freight rail, but the Counties Transit Improvement Board has sent a letter to the agency demanding that the council make a decision by June 30. If it does not, the Counties Transit Improvement Board threatened to move its funding – which would account for 30 percent of the Southwest Light Rail Transit project – to the Bottineau line from the northwest suburbs to Minneapolis.
The TranSystems draft report has taken some hits. The company estimated the cost of its reroute at $105 million, not including property acquisition. Metropolitan Council staff members have put that number at closer to $250 million. Numerous St. Louis Park leaders have also pointed out concerns with the report, with the St. Louis Park School Board writing a letter calling it “riddled with errors.” For example, the School Board said the draft report provides an incorrect distance between the existing tracks and St. Louis Park High School and refers to Central Junior High, which closed in 1980.
During a January press conference in which the TranSystem reroute plan was announced, TranSystems Senior Vice President Jim Terry asserted that officials with Canadian Pacific have said they would be satisfied with the reroute alternative if TC&W officials are.
Terry said at the time, “I cannot give you a reason why they wouldn’t be OK with it.”
Wegner, the TC&W president, said TranSystems did not ask the railroad for input until the designs already had been made public.
The company has previously threatened to withhold track rights if it finds a freight rail plan unacceptable. In response to a previous reroute option, a company position paper responded, “Under federal rules, TC&W must agree to relinquish its rights to its existing route in order for (Southwest LRT) to utilize that route as proposed. Until an acceptable reroute design is adopted, we will not be able to do so.”
Contact Seth Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org