Dayton wants railroads’ help with crossings

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Gov. Mark Dayton said a big investment is needed to upgrade some railway crossings throughout the state, a cost the railroads should share.

“Unfortunately, given the nature of the physical improvements, it’s going to take some time and some serious money to make these improvements at grade crossings," Dayton said.  "To change those at $15 million to $30 million a piece, that’s very expensive.”

The DFL governor held a roundtable discussion Monday in the northern Twin Cities suburb of Coon Rapids, where concern is growing over train slowdowns that frequently block key intersections along Highway 10. Officials from nearby cities made similar complaints.

Coon Rapids Mayor-Elect Jerry Koch said emergency vehicles often get blocked by slow-moving trains.

“We just really need to figure out a way to quit parking the trains in town here," Koch added.

Coon Rapids Fire Chief John Piper said he recently met with BNSF Railway officials to discuss the issue, but the problem seems to be getting worse.

"It's having a dramatic effect on our public safety response times," Piper said.

After the meeting, Dayton said the there’s been a lack of responsiveness from the railroads to the problem.

The governor plans to unveil a transportation proposal during the 2015 Legislative session that will include rail projects. He said legislation requiring railroads to share the cost may be needed if they don’t come forward voluntarily. The session begins January 6.

Brian Sweeney, a lobbyist with BNSF who also attended the meeting in Coon Rapids, said his railroad has a major capital investment underway to improve the flow of train traffic.

“Ultimately, the problem is going to be solved by building more capacity,” Sweeney said.

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