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Railroad takes issue with rerouting freight traffic for Southwest LRT

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A new proposal for the Southwest light-rail project that would run freight trains through St. Louis Park is getting some pushback from the railroad.

Minnesota Public Radio reports Twin Cities & Western Railroad, the company that runs trains along part of the planned 16-mile light-rail line, says the new route raises some safety concerns.

The route, which is very similar to a previous proposal that was strongly opposed by St. Louis Park residents, would reroute freight traffic from the Kenilworth Corridor in Minneapolis to St. Louis Park. The plan would make way for light-rail trains to run through the corridor.

But the railroad's preliminary analysis found the curves and elevation changes along the route pose a risk for derailment, MPR reports.

Mark Wegner, president of Twin Cities & Western Railroad, announced his concerns Wednesday at a meeting of mayors and county commissioners who have played key decision-making roles for the $1.5 billion project, the Star Tribune says.

TranSystems of Kansas City, the Metropolitan Council's railroad consultant, says there is nothing unsafe about the proposal.

"My company does rail design work for the BNSF, the Union Pacific. They're our two biggest customers," Jim Terry, a senior vice president for TranSystems, told MPR. "And we encounter curves like this all the time."

The Star Tribune points out that the railroad's stance is important because it weighs heavily on whether the federal government will approve the plan, thus approving federal funds. Finance & Commerce says the federal Surface Transportation Board, which oversees all rail mergers, sales, construction and abandonments, has never allowed a railroad-opposed reroute.

Wegner said a Twin Cities & Western engineer will take a closer look at the proposal to look for possible tweaks to the plan.

Also being considered is a slightly more expensive plan that would run light-rail trains through two shallow tunnels alongside freight traffic in the Kenilworth Corridor. The option would force the removal of hundreds of trees along the corridor.

However, as Finance & Commerce reports, the city of Minneapolis has been adamant that if the light rail comes through Kenilworth, freight needs to move.

The Metropolitan Council is set to vote on the project at the end of March. The Star Tribune says the proposal would then be passed to cities along the light-rail route for their consent.

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