Tuesday, February 25, 2014

WINTHROP OFFICIALS: TC&W RELOCATION COULD SERIOUSLY HARM OUR ECONOMY

Two governmental organizations in Winthrop, Minnesota, have gone on record opposing any relocation of Twin Cities and Western Railroad (TC&W) "that would negatively affect the railroad's ability to continue to serve Heartland Corn Products, United Farmers Cooperative and other rural Minnesota businesses at the same level of safety and efficiency they experience under the status quo."

The Winthrop City Council and Winthrop Opportunities, a local development organization, both passed a resolution expressing concern that Winthrop's local economy could be "seriously harmed" if a reroute of TC&W's freight rail service impaired the ability of the two co-ops to continue to ship their goods safely and cost-effectively.

Winthrop Mayor Dave Trebelhorn signed the resolution on behalf of the City Council, while Winthrop Opportunities Board Chair Lance Wiborg signed on behalf of that organization.

The complete text of the resolution follows:

RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF TWIN CITIES & WESTERN RAILROAD

WHEREAS, the Twin Cities and Western Railroad (TC&W) provides a vital freight rail link between dozens of rural Minnesota businesses and national and international markets; and,

WHEREAS, the largest 20 companies served by TC&W ship nearly $1.5 billion in client goods from rural Minnesota communities to destinations around the globe, and employ more than 2,600 Minnesota and South Dakota residents; and,

WHEREAS, TC&W shippers across western Minnesota have invested more than $500 million in building and/or upgrading production, processing and shipping facilities along the existing TC&W route; and,

WHEREAS, these rural companies rely on TC&W freight rail service because it is the safest and most cost-effective shipping alternative available to them; and,

WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Council is currently considering route proposals for the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SLRT) project that would require the relocation of TC&W freight rail service to an alternate route that is less safe and less cost-effective than the railroad's existing route; and,

WHEREAS, Heartland Cort Products (HCP) AND United Farmers Cooperative (UFC), both companies that rely on TC&W freight service, are two of our community's most valued employers and important contributors to our economic health; and,

WHEREAS, our local economy would be seriously harmed if relocation of TC&W's freight rail route impaired the ability of HCP and UFC or other rural Minnesota businesses to continue to ship their goods safely and cost-effectively;

NOW, THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Winthrop City Council officially opposes any relocation of Twin Cities and Western Railroad that would negatively affect the railroad's ability to continue to serve HCP, UFC and other rural Minnesota businesses at the same level of safety and cost-efficiency they experience under the status quo; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be forwarded to Governor Mark Dayton, Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh, local legislators and the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

TC&W RAILROAD REJECTS TRANSYSTEMS LIGHT RAIL PLAN

After reviewing a technical analysis prepared by a South Dakota engineering firm, Twin Cities & Western Railroad (TC&W) today announced that it has rejected a proposal by Transystems, an independent consultant, to relocate freight rail service from the Kenilworth Corridor to a St. Louis Park route. The engineering analysis described the Transystems proposal as “neither efficient, safe nor cost effective when compared to TC&W’s current route.”

TC&W President Mark Wegner said he received the report yesterday from Civil Design, Inc. (CDI). It highlighted a number of specific problems with the St. Louis Park route recommended by independent consultant Transystems on January 30. “The operating conditions proposed by the Transystems alignment would be detrimental in every respect to current and future operating conditions for the TC&W,” the report concluded.

The Transystems plan would reroute freight rail traffic through St. Louis Park on the MN&S rail line owned by Canadian Pacific. It is only slightly different from the plan proposed in the October 2012 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) published by Hennepin County.

Among the problems cited in the CDI report to TC&W:

         --The proposed reroute does not meet mainline standards for Class I railroad construction as required by the length and weight of TC&W trains moving freight to and from Class I carriers;

         --The installation of a Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) signal controlled by other railroads would force TC&W trains to wait on the track for access rights from the controlling railroads, causing costly and inefficient delays;

--The reroute includes three reverse curves, also known as S-curves, and multiple undulating grades in less than one mile, unsafe elements that should be “avoided at all costs,” according to the American Railroad Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA), which reports that such elements can “greatly increase the likelihood of the train buckling and thus derailment.”

--The route requires tracks to be built on bridges, creating higher maintenance and repair costs, but there is no agreement as to who would be responsible for those costs.

Wegner said it’s hard for him to understand why Transystems recommended a St. Louis Park reroute that is only slightly different from the DEIS plan that TC&W rejected. He said the railroad wasn’t asked for input in either case until the designs already had been made public.

In contrast, Wegner pointed to the Brunswick Central reroute option, which TC&W found acceptable from a safety perspective. That route, which skirts the St. Louis Park High School’s football field, was developed by the Metropolitan Council with the collaboration of Canadian Pacific and TC&W to meet Class I mainline safety and engineering standards.

“You don’t build passenger aircraft to meet minimum safety standards; you don’t build road bridges to meet minimum weight standards .These designs have numerous safety redundancies built in,” Wegner said. “When state and federal authorities are looking at freight rail options here in the Twin Cities, it’s hard to imagine them taking the position that a less safe route is preferable to our current route.”

The failure to meet Class I safety and engineering standards makes it impossible for TC&W to accept the Transystem plan, Wegner concluded, because “it does not allow us to protect our current and future shippers in Minnesota and South Dakota.”

NOTE: The CDI report is available on the Twin Cities & Western website.