Consulting firm declines to make light rail safety recommendations due to a conflict of interest

The consulting firm hired to look into a possible railroad reroute for the Southwest Light Rail line declined to render an opinion, citing a conflict of interest, Met Council officials said today.

The Met Council hired Colorado-based Transportation Technology Center Inc., to examine possible safety risks of running freight trains on elevated tracks through St. Louis Park. Some St. Louis Park residents strongly oppose this option out of environmental and safety concerns.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, a member of the Southwest LRT corridor management committee, expressed frustration at the company's actions.

"There were assertions made by the railroad there were horrible safety problems," McLaughlin said. "And we went to the people who were supposed to be the best in the country about dealing with safety problems and they took a pass because their funders, the railroad, probably didn't want them to do it. I think it's a crappy way to do business."

Met Council chair Sue Haigh says there is not enough time to hire a new consultant before the Council decides to either relocate the freight rail lines or build a shallow tunnel through a section of Minneapolis. Some Minneapolis residents and environmental activists oppose the tunnel option.

Met Council officials say about 1,000 trees will be removed in order to build the tunnel. Construction also will disrupt traffic on the well-travelled biking and walking trails that run through the area. That section, the Kenilworth corridor, is too narrow for both rail lines and bike trails to run next to each other above ground.

Council staff members are expected to recommend a preferred option next week.

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