St. Paul Park rail crossing closed over oil train crash concerns

The Minnesota Department of Transportation and BNSF Railway have closed the rail crossing near the St. Paul Park, Minn. oil refinery over concerns of potentially-catastrophic oil train crashes.

Traffic, which is mostly commercial trucks, is now diverted to an existing overpass. The $954,000 diversion project, which started in July 2016, included removing the existing road, building a cul-de-sac for traffic turnaround and restoring the area.

“This closure takes away another potential point of contact between the public and trains in the state at a high-risk location,” said MnDOT project manager Jim Weatherhead. “Each year, MnDOT works to improve safety at highway-rail crossings with gates or other improvements. This was one of those instances where closure was the best public safety choice.”

A 2014 MnDOT study on rail crossings identified the crossing near Hastings Avenue and First Street in St. Paul Park as a "high safety risk." While the crossing is in an industrial part of the city, there is a high population center within a half mile radius of the crossing.

The BNSF Railway runs up to 50 trains carrying freight of all kinds on the route per day. Amtrak also uses the line.

“Closing the crossing was a better option than updating the old warning system because the crossing was near an oil refinery, a population center and a state highway,” Weatherhead said.

A June 2015 crash at the St. Paul Park crossing between a semi hauling flour and a train hauling North Dakota oil was the near-disaster that forced Gov. Mark Dayton to call for the crossing’s closure.

St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke had long been complaining about the rail crossing, which has warning lights but no safety arms. Neighbors told Fox 9 that trucks frequently try to "beat" trains at that crossing, even when the warning lights are on.

READ THIS NEXT - Minnesota woman delivers comfort pies to Dakota Access Pipeline protesters

Funding for the crossing closure and construction work came mainly from a 2014 state legislative appropriation designated for rail grade crossing safety improvements along routes that carry oil or other hazardous materials. BNSF contributed $100,000, along with equipment and crews to help with the crossing removal and landscape restorative work.

“We have reduced the rate of grade crossing collisions on our network by more than 70 percent in the last two decades, but still more than half the collisions occur where there are active warning devices for the motoring public,” said a statement from BNSF public affairs director Amy McBeth.