By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN In response to several recent incidents of trains blocking Delano roadways, city officials are asking drivers to notify the Wright County Sheriff’s Office if intersections are blocked more than 10 minutes at a time.
Delano City Administrator Phil Kern said that, last summer, the city attempted to contact Burlington Northern Santa FE (BNSF) about trains blocking intersections, specifically County Line Road.
He said several more complaints were received in February regarding trains blocking that roadway one allegedly blocking County Line Road for approximately 40 minutes.
“As I understand it, federal law requires them to have intersections open within 10 minutes,” Kern said.
Part of the city’s request to drivers is to be patient at intersections, but if it is blocked for more than 10 minutes, call the Wright County Sheriff’s Office at (763) 682-1162 and report it.
“The only thing that is going to yield action is continued reports of incidents,” Kern said. “The sheriff’s office has offered to assist in enforcement, but needs the documentation.”
In the past, Kern said BNSF has typically said delays longer than 10 minutes have been as a result of mechanical errors or issues.
BNSF Regional Media Cotact Amy McBeth said it is BNSF’s intent to minimize the impact of its operations on the communities where BNSF serves customers
“General operations rules say they shouldn’t block more than 10 minutes,” McBeth said. If there is a train blocking roadway for longer than 10 minutes, she said it is usually due to something preventing the safe movement of the train.
Kern said the city’s biggest concern about trains blocking roadways is not just a matter of patience but sometimes can be a matter of life and death.
“In a medical or emergency situation when emergency personnel are dispatched, it adds to response time if they cannot get through,” Kern said.
“If we know it’s an ongoing issue, we can work to try to reduce the impact of our operations,” McBeth said. She said there is an average of 12 trains that pass through Delano on a daily basis on the line that goes from Minneapolis to Willmar.
“We want to make sure we’re good neighbors to the extent that we can,” McBeth said. BNSF also has a budget of approximately $1.2 million to help replace rail line and ties and adding track extensions in order to ensure safe operations.
McBeth said travelers may also contact BNSF’s resource operation center directly at 800-832-5452 if there are issues locally.
Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty said he is also aware of issues in Buffalo with Canadian Pacific trains blocking roadways.
“Buffalo had an incident where several intersections were blocked at the same time because of a breakdown,” Hagerty said.
Representatives from the City of Buffalo met with officials from Canadian Pacific (CP) April 16 to review the railroad’s operations through the area and concerns about crossing issues.
Discussions focused on two crossing incidents that resulted in prolonged blocked roadways.CP agreed to review internal processes regarding communications with the local community and law enforcement and assess its train operation procedures and protocols with staff and appropriate railroad personnel, according to the City of Buffalo.
“We appreciate them listening to our concerns and their willingness to work closely with us to help ensure that traffic disruptions are kept to a minimum,” Buffalo Mayor Brad Nauman said.
Hagerty said he believes people in Delano perhaps are more used to train traffic.
“It’s set up a little better in Delano with the trestles,” he said, noting trains travel over Highway 12 and River Street.
A bigger concern than blocked roadways
Hagerty said with the oil boom in the Dakotas, it seems there is a higher volume of trains traffic through the area. He said with this increase in rail traffic, his bigger concern is rail safety in general.
“It scares the daylights out of me what happened in Canada,” Hagerty said, referring to a July 2013 incident in which a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed in a Quebec town and killed 42 people and destroyed roughly half the downtown area.
He said local emergency personnel have expressed concerns to the Minnesota Department of Transportation at a recent listening session about rail safety.
“We’ve got these towns five to seven miles apart,” Hagerty said. “Rail safety is a priority for the State of Minnesota right now.”
A lot of cars passing through Wright County seem to be newer, safer cars, he added.
“We’ve had a good relationship with the railroad,” Hagerty said. “They’re just very busy.”
Between 2009 and 2012, there were 132 crashes at public highway-rail crossings in Minnesota, ranking the state 23rd in the nation, according to MnDOT.