Oil train crash in St. Paul Park could have been epic disaster

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and state leaders are renewing their call to spend more money on rail safety, and they are using a near-disaster from this past weekend to make their point.

A semi hauling flour crossed an unguarded railroad crossing in St. Paul Park, Minn. on Sunday, and it was struck by a train carrying North Dakota crude oil. No one was injured, but it's the kind of potential disaster that emergency planners across the state have been warning about.

MnDOT's office of rail freight says 70 trains use this line each day, and 6 of those are oil trains. That adds up to roughly 20 million gallon of Bakken crude per day.

"If that would have been a semi-trailer full of propane or something going across, I mean that's a game changer there," said Rep. Dan Shoen (DFL-Cottage Grove).

It's a game changer because the state's second largest refinery is just down the street. The city of St. Paul Park is considering closing the unguarded crossing all together, but the mayor says the cost is more than $1 million.

"The estimates that we have coming in now are half of what we have for a budget right now," Mayor Keith Franke said. "And that's our entire budget to run the entire city. So where do we pay for that? How do we pay for that?"

Gov. Dayton proposed a funding package this year to pay to close this crossing and improve 74 more across the state. It failed to pass the Republican-controlled House. The governor acknowledges that BNSF is spending more than $300 million of its own money this year on safety and capacity improvements in Minnesota, but he also believes it's not enough.

"The magnitude of what their profits are from this transport of oil and the additional risk that it imposes on people here and elsewhere and around the country, it's really a fraction of what's needed," Gov. Dayton said.

The site of the June 7 crash, at Hastings Avenue and 1st Street, was identified in a 2014 MnDOT study as being dangerous and in need of safety improvements. A spokeswoman for BNSF says they too are concerned about this crossing. The railroad has offered to team up with MnDOT to spend $600,000 to close it to traffic.The challenge now for the city is to find the rest of the money to make it happen.


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