County closes on Crystal land deal to prevent rail reroute through downtown

Hennepin County has closed on the purchase of a Crystal property in an effort to block a proposed reroute of freight train traffic that would send oil trains through downtown Minneapolis. 

Canadian Pacific and BNSF have been planning a new rail connection at the Crystal property that would allow trains to travel south through Crystal and into downtown Minneapolis on a track that runs under Target Field. The freight traffic would include oil trains, which has raised concerns among community leaders and residents along the proposed reroute.

Oil trains have come under greater scrutiny as derailments have increased in recent years. There have been 24 oil train derailments in the country in less than two years with the most recent occurring in a small North Dakota town May 6. 

Between 40 and 50 trains carrying the highly volatile Bakken crude oil pass through Minneapolis each week on their way to refineries, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. 

Amy McBeth, a spokeswoman for BNSF, told the Journal recently that the proposed reroute is designed to reduce congestion on the rails along with idling trains and blocked at-grade crossings. 

When reached Monday and asked about the county’s purchase of the Crystal parcel, she said: “We continue to explore all possible ways to add capacity on our network in the Twin Cities.”

Meanwhile, county leaders have raised concerns that the train reroute proposal would result in traffic delays for first responders trying to travel east-west through Hennepin County.

To move ahead with the reroute, BNSF would have to condemn the property — a move county officials would challenge, said Kayla Bromelkamp, a spokeswoman for Hennepin County. 

The county purchased the parcel at 5170 West Broadway in Crystal for $1.8 million, she said. The property is currently home to Thomas Auto Body and North Suburban Towing. 

Legislation is also pending at the state Capitol that would limit the railroads’ eminent domain powers. 

(Map courtesy of Citizens Acting for Rail Safety–Twin Cities)