April 19, 2018 Contact Mark Wegner
TC&W REJECTS MET COUNCIL SETTLEMENT DEMAND
Met Council reasons for abandoning negotiations on key issues remain unclear,
TC&W President says
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—
GLENCOE, Minn. – Twin Cities & Western Railroad (TC&W) President Mark Wegner announced today that the railroad will reject what he called a “take it or leave it” offer from the Metropolitan Council to resolve issues involving the proposed location of Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) adjacent to TC&W’s existing freight rail operations. Wegner outlined TC&W’s objections in a letter sent April 13th to Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff.
“We’ve told the Council,” Wegner said, “that its offer violates our principal condition for cooperating with SWLRT, namely that the Council must protect (us) from loss or damage to property or degradation of common carrier service occurring because of the light rail or because of Met Council’s breach of its contract obligations to TC&W. We’ve never asked for more but we can’t accept less.”
As a result, according to Wegner, TC&W will oppose the Council's filings with federal transportation agencies responsible for ensuring the vitality of the nation's freight rail service. Those agencies, particularly the Surface Transportation Board (STB), must sign off on the Council's proposal before the light rail project can move forward.
Federal law protects the rights of regional freight carriers that rural shippers rely on to move their goods to market. The policies recognize the importance of short-line railroads like TC&W to the uninterrupted and free-flowing movement of interstate commerce, which is essential for the nation's economic health.
Wegner said the Council abruptly and unilaterally stopped an 18-month negotiation process last fall and remained silent for 5 months before suddenly presenting its final settlement demand to the railroad on March 8th. The Council demanded a response from TC&W by April 18. But instead of waiting for TC&W's response, the Council proceeded to file a request with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to acquire the rail corridor and transfer the freight operating and common carrier rights to Hennepin County. “That’s not good faith behavior or even common courtesy,” Wegner said today.
“What’s most discouraging,” Wegner noted, “are the Council’s publicly stated reasons for their rather high-handed behavior. They argue that we demanded a “sweetheart deal” and insisted that the Council indemnify TC&W for losses unrelated to SWLRT operations.” Wegner called the Council’s claim a “fabrication.” In his April 13th letter to the Council Chair he said, "I think we both know that TC&W has never even remotely suggested that Met Council compensate us for losses unrelated to SWLRT construction or operations."
Wegner also disputed the Council's claim that TC&W's positions have changed over months of negotiation. “We’ve never moved the goal posts. In good faith, we agreed to the Council's proposed track realignment, even though it meant the significant loss of side tracks that are critical to our common carrier operations. The Council has refused to acknowledge the full extent of the financial impact of that change on TC&W. This remains an obstacle to the full resolution of the current impasse."
Wegner said that TC&W offered its path for agreement in a September 29th letter to the Council but that the Council’s only response was “silence for 5 months and then delivery of an unresponsive set of take it or leave it demands that did not address our legitimate concerns.”
“The Met Council has signaled its intent to ignore the very real concerns of the farmers and freight shippers who rely on TC&W to move their goods to national and worldwide markets through Hennepin County,” said Wegner. "As such, TC&W cannot agree to the terms of the Council's March 8 settlement demand. To do so would mean abandoning the best interests of our rural shippers and violating our common carrier obligations under federal law. We will not be derelict in our duty to our freight customers.”
“We have tried to be constructive partners with the Met Council," Wegner said, "but the sad reality is that they have decided to make us adversaries.”
NOTE: The complete text of Wegner's letter to Met Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff is available here: (http://tcwr.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Met-Council-Letter-4-13-2018.pdf )