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3 oil trains in 6 innings? Rail line's shift of oil traffic into Twin Cities has critics

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More North Dakota crude is rolling into Minneapolis from the west. And the temporary change in oil train routes has some in the city worried more people would be in harm's way if there's an accident.

The Star Tribune says reports BNSF Railway files with the state show a surge in traffic coming into Minneapolis from Willmar and the western suburbs, instead of from St. Cloud and northern suburbs.

A spokeswoman for the railway tells the newspaper trains are rerouted to allow for upgrades to tracks and says things will return to normal once construction season ends.

The Star Tribune says an area that used to see zero to three oil trains per week is now getting 11 to 24 trains, each hauling at least 1 million gallons of crude.

The western route into Minneapolis goes past Target Field and through the city's resurgent North Loop neighborhood.

State Rep. Frank Hornstein tells MPR News that during a recent Twins game he saw three oil trains roll by the ballpark within six innings. Hornstein says BNSF's reroute is putting more people at risk, noting that the National Transportation Safety Board has advised that oil trains be kept away from densely populated areas.

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn expressed similar concerns to the Star Tribune, but fire chief John Freutel told the paper he thinks safety hazards are the same whether trains enter the city from the west or the north.

Oil train safety

Minnesota and the rail companies that haul oil through the state have each been making changes aimed at improving safety in the last couple of years. BNSF documents changes it made in 2014 and '15 here. They include lower speed limits in cities and more track inspections.

A Minnesota law that took effect last year includes more oversight of train companies, more state inspections, and additional training for emergency responders.

A Department of Public Safety report in January assessed Minnesota's preparedness for an oil train incident.

While Minnesota has not seen any major oil train fires or derailments, there is nervousness about the potential for a disaster. A U.S. Senate committee that came to Minneapolis for a hearing last month got an earful from residents, WCCO reported.

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