Light Rail Expansion Comes to Screeching Halt: BNSF Says No To Met Council

Late last week, the Met Council got some very bad news. A freight line, BNSF, told the Met Council that it did not want to co-locate its freight line with the proposed 13-mile light rail expansion of the “Blue Line” called Bottineau (into the northern suburbs).

Here is an excerpt from the letter BNSF sent to the Met Council:

“BNSF is not prepared to proceed with any discussion of passenger rail in this corridor at this time,” wrote BNSF vice president and senior general counsel Richard E. Weicher in a letter dated Jan. 9, 2018.

“As we explained in discussions some time ago, we do not believe the Blue Line light rail project would be consistent with our passenger principles or protect the long-term viability of freight service along the Monticello Subdivision,” Weicher wrote.

And while the Met Council put a happy face on this bad news, and elected officials who want the LRT expansion suggested that BNSF was just engaged in hard-knuckle negotiations, it does not sound like BNSF is still at the negotiating table. You be the judge.

Keep in mind that BNSF demanded and got a $20 million “crash wall” between the proposed SWLRT and BNSF in Minneapolis—the wall is 10 feet high, 3 feet thick and over a mile long. If they were angling for a crash wall on the Bottineau line, it would be eight miles long! Imagine that.

This is encouraging news for those of us who know that the multi-billion-dollar LRT expansion plans for Southwest LRT, Bottineau LRT and other lines. These LRT enthusiasts even want to run LRT from downtown St. Paul to the airport! Have they not heard of Uber? Lyft?

Here is the CBS/WCCO report:

 MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A long-planned light rail line from Minneapolis to the northern suburbs has hit a big road block after the $1.5 billion blue line project lost a major partner.

It’s called the Bottineau Blue Line. It would start in downtown Minneapolis and run to the quickly growing northern suburbs.

The Blue Line extension runs through the northern suburbs of Robbinsdale, New Hope, Golden Valley, Crystal, and Brooklyn Center, ending near the Target Corproation (sic) north campus in Brooklyn Park.

It’s a region the Met Council predicts will have sharp job growth.

“It’s critical,” Met Council chair Alene Tchourumoff said. “It’s the backbone of our economy — our ability to move people and things efficiently and effectively.”

But there’s a problem: The project would share eight of its 13-mile route with BNSF Railroad, and the two sides need to agree on how to fit passenger and freight trains side by side in the same corridor.

Now, BNSF says the project has too many downsides to continue.

Republican House Transportation Chairman Paul Torkelson says Blue Line planners “messed up” the route selection, putting in jeopardy the entire project. And he questions the future of light rail itself.

“The future of the line is uncertain,” he said. “I really question whether it’s worth the money. These lines are expensive — extremely expensive — and I do question whether it is the appropriate use of funds, both federal and state.”

But supporters say the project is critical to Minnesota’s economy, where the metro population will grow by 700,000 over the next 20 years.

“We need to be strategic and think about how we are going to move those folks not only today, but in the future,” Tchourumoff said.

Light rail supporters are frustrated with the slow pace of construction. Despite widespread support among northern mayors, the blue line extension is still years away.