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Train traffic in Minnesota cities makes emergency responders wait

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More concerns are being aired about trains that travel through Minnesota carry oil from North Dakota – this time, the issue is the traffic delays they cause when blocking railroad crossings, especially for emergency vehicles.

Gov. Mark Dayton met with local officials and railroad representatives Monday in Coon Rapids and heard the city's fire chief describe how it sometimes takes the trains up to 25 minutes to clear the city's main railroad crossings along Hwy. 10, MPR News reports.

Emergency vehicles have to wait for the train to clear or take longer routes to respond to emergency calls, and that's having a "dramatic effect on our public safety response times,” chief John Piper said.

The main issue involves “train staging” -- where trains wait for clearance to continue into a nearby rail yard. The trains often block the crossings if they're too long and don't fit in the staging area.

Piper said he's met with railroad officials recently, but the situation has not improved.

It's a big issue in Coon Rapids, which has 100 trains passing through every day on 10 railroad crossings.

“Something needs to be figured out so trains are not parked in town here,” said Mayor-elect Jerry Koch, according to ABC Newspapers. / ECM Publishers.

Officials from nearby Big Lake and Ramsey said their communities are seeing the same problems.

The long-term solution is clear, but expensive – to build overpasses or underpasses so vehicle traffic can avoid the railroad tracks altogether. Each bypass would cost $15 million or more, and would need at least a few years to be designed and constructed.

In the short term, Dayton said the railroads need to be more responsive to community concerns, and work on adjusting their schedules to help alleviate the traffic tie-ups.

The governor said he will recommend a transportation plan during the upcoming legislative session which will include rail projects, and it will rely in part on railroads to help pay for the improvements, according to MPR News.

For their part, railroad officials say they're investing billions in improvements throughout their rail systems to improve the flow of train traffic.

State and local officials have been concerned for many months about the safety of the trains that carry crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through Minnesota to various refineries, especially after several train derailments resulted in explosions and fires.

Federal officials have recommended stricter safety requirements on the tanker cars which contain the oil, and better communication to emergency responders in communities along the train routes.

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