Updated 2:10 p.m. | Posted 1:40 p.m.
Minnesota officials will speed inspection of railroad tracks and grade crossings in response to a jump in oil train traffic rolling through downtown Minneapolis, Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday.
Dayton made his comments to reporters after speaking to Carl Ice, the chief executive of BNSF Railway, the railroad that recently increased sharply the number of trains loaded with North Dakota crude oil passing through downtown.
The railroad says the reroute is only temporary, but the move has city leaders concerned. Normally, the railroad sends most of its oil trains south through Anoka County and into Northeast Minneapolis, across the river from downtown.
But in July, it began shifting those trains to another route that passes through the western suburbs and moves along the edge of downtown.
In June, no more than three oil trains on average traveled that corridor each week. By mid-September, the number had jumped to between 11 and 23. Each carried 1 million or more gallons of flammable crude oil right past Target Field.
Dayton said he's going to accelerate the inspections on the rail line between Willmar, Minn., and Minneapolis because of the rerouting of oil train traffic.
He said inspectors will check to see whether there are any cracks in the rails or if any of the tracks "come loose."
"We're going to inspect the tracks themselves. We're going to inspect the 63 grade crossings on that route and we'll do everything we can to assure Minnesotans that they'll continue to be safe." Dayton also said he is asking city and county officials to see whether they need additional hazardous materials training in light of the changes.
Dayton has expressed concern about the downtown shipments, saying the presence of such trains puts an additional 99,000 Minnesotans within a half-mile of an oil train route.
On Thursday, Dayton said the BNSF chief explained that the temporary jump in oil train traffic downtown is due to an expansion of the railroad's operations in Staples, Minn., and that the rerouting will continue.
The Staples work will likely end with this year's construction season but it isn't certain if it will start again next spring, the governor added.
On the route in question and on all its crude oil traffic routes, BNSF conducts daily track inspections, uses additional trackside detectors to monitor rail car conditions and runs trains at slower speeds, railway spokesperson Amy McBeth said.
Dayton's comments came a day after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said oil train disaster prevention and response plans that five railroads submitted nearly four months ago are not fully compliant with state requirements.
The agency sent letters to the BNSF, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Union Pacific and Twin Cities and Western railroads this week detailing the shortcomings in the plans. It also set a Nov. 10 deadline for the railroads to submit revised versions.
Dayton on Thursday said he also asked Ice to contact him directly if BNSF officials decide to reroute the changes again.
"I'm not trying to scare people," Dayton said. "But it's just a fact of life that they have occurred (oil train disasters) and therefore we want to be doing everything we possibly can to prevent them from happening and be able to respond immediately and properly if something should occur."