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Backers of three Minnesota rail crossing projects argue their cases

ST. PAUL - Separating streets from railroads that carry oil trains could save lives in Minnesota communities, a House committee heard Thursday.

ST. PAUL – Separating streets from railroads that carry oil trains could save lives in Minnesota communities, a House committee heard Thursday.

Moorhead, Red Wing and Coon Rapids leaders argued for millions of dollars their communities would use to build bridges so busy railroad crossings would not be at the same level as roads.

As if to punctuate the rail safety issue, at the same time the issue was being discussed in a state House committee, emergency personnel were responding to a truck-train collision 222 miles northwest of St. Paul in Callaway in northwest Minnesota.

The crossing at Callaway, population about 200, is not on a state list of crossings that most need improvements, but the three discussed by representatives Thursday are at the top of the list.

"I know it is very expensive, but it is something our citizens will really benefit from," Moorhead Fire Chief Rich Duysen told the House committee in charge of funding public works projects.

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The Moorhead project is expensive, with $42.3 million sought from the state, because a railroad overpass system would span two major streets near the high school and Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Deputy City Manager Scott Hutchins said the 20th-21st street project has been examined for years, but federal funds have not been available to build it. And the work gets more expensive every year, he said.

Five active rail lines go through Moorhead carrying more than 100 trains a day.

Hutchins said some crossings are blocked for hours a day. As trains head for a Dilworth railyard, they may back up in downtown Moorhead, closing several crossings. The project would end that issue, he said.

The crossing proposed for improvement in Moorhead is "complex," said Rep. Ben Lien, D-Moorhead. More than one street is involved and the streets and the tracks are not at right angles.

The project would involve three bridges, extensive excavation to lower roads and a large amount of retaining wall work, Hutchins said.

Work on the project could begin next year if the Legislature approves funding this spring, Hutchins said.

The Red Wing project would build an overpass so vehicles headed to the Prairie Island Community, Treasure Island Resort and Casino, a nuclear power plant and a federal lock and dam facility are not blocked by trains.

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Coon Rapids officials said one of the main concerns is public safety.

Fire Chief John Piper said that a normal crossing with gates may be closed three to four minutes when a train goes through, but the Coon Rapids crossing is blocked much longer as trains wait to enter a Minneapolis railyard.

The committee took no action, but will consider the railroad crossing projects when it draws up its public works finance bill.

The three projects did not get money from last year's Legislature.

Related Topics: MOORHEAD
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