Residents say Met Council put light rail tracks too close to freight line

The more the Met Council attempts to change the narrative on the Southwest Light Rail Transit boondoggle, the more it remains the same. The latest embarrassing case in point was uncovered when Minneapolis residents in the Kenilworth neighborhood alerted KSTP-TV.

A new section of light rail tracks is about a foot too close to existing freight tracks in Minneapolis. That discovery is the latest hiccup for the controversial Southwest Light Rail project, which is already years behind schedule and more than $1 billion over budget.

The Metropolitan Council recently confirmed the discrepancy to 5 INVESTIGATES after homeowners on West 21st Street raised concerns about construction not following the project’s stated design plans. 

The distance matters because the new light rail tracks run parallel to a freight line that transports hazardous materials, among other cargo. The design calls for a buffer zone as a safety precaution between the lines. Yet apparently it took area residents, rather than the Met Council or construction team, to discover the problem.

In an email to [resident Marion] Collins, Metro Transit cited its “design criteria” for the project and stated, “the centerline of the freight track and centerline of the closest LRT track will be 25 feet apart.”

But when crews recently laid the new light rail tracks at the crossing on West 21st Street, Collins and her neighbors measured the distance and found they were about one foot too close to the freight tracks.

“Everybody’s coming up with 24 feet,” Collins said. “They have all the equipment, they have all the specialists, they have surveyors – how did they get this wrong?”

The Met Council’s project manager confirmed the tracks were installed closer to the freight line than the design called for. But he was at a loss to explain how it happened or what must done to fix it.

“I have always understood that we have 25 feet there, so we’re talking to our engineer to understand, ‘OK what happened? What’s going on?’” [project manager Jim] Alexander said. “Because we measured it as well… we’re showing about seven inches short of the 25 feet.” 

Alexander added that Metro Transit is now in the process of finding a “resolution,” but he would not predict what it will take to increase the distance between the light rail and freight rail tracks at the crossing in question.

While the apparent discrepancy amounts to less than a foot, the issue only adds to a long list of problems over the controversial Green Line extension, which has doubled in price to $2.9 billion and remains years behind schedule. Meantime, the railroad company sharing the corridor has brought in an investigator to get to the bottom of the problem, out of an abundance of caution.

“It’s in everybody’s best interest to make sure all the safety redundancies in a track structure for freight rail are followed to a T,” [Twin Cities & Western CEO Mark] Wegner said. “So basically, no surprises and no derailment issues.”