Oil trains rerouted into downtown through fall

A unit train travels through downtown Oct. 3. Credit: Photo by Sarah McKenzie

Bakken oil trains are passing through downtown Minneapolis as part of a temporary rerouting of BNSF rail traffic.

An estimated 11 to 23 oil trains are traveling along tracks that go under Target Field and cut through the North Loop and Nicollet Island, according to a report obtained by the Star Tribune.

The trains travel alongside the Northstar Commuter Rail Line.

Amy McBeth, a spokeswoman for BNSF, wouldn’t specify how long the rerouting of oil train traffic will last this fall. Minneapolis Fire Chief John Freutel also said he hasn’t received that information from the freight rail company.

“Our major rail complex for the state is in Minneapolis and we have multiple routes in the metro area that will be utilized for trains hauling a variety of commodities that we all use and need every day,” McBeth said. “We don’t detail routes of commodities but we do comply with the law and report to the state crude volumes of a certain size and those routes, including when it changes up or down by 25 percent, which is what occurred.”

McBeth said BNSF is investing about $326 million in its rail network in Minnesota. Reroutes will end this fall when the capital projects are completed.

“We haul hazardous materials on a number of routes and we do it safely. 99.99 percent of all hazmat shipments on BNSF make it to destination without incident,” she said. “We undertake specifics steps to reduce risk of moving crude oil on all of our routes, including reduced speeds, increased track inspections and trackside detectors.”

She said BNSF provides information on crude shipments to state officials along with hazmat flow reports to first responders.

Meanwhile, many community leaders and residents have been raising concerns about oil train traffic in the city given high profile derailments that have had devastating consequences, including the July 6, 2013 derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec that killed 42 people when the train cars carrying Bakken crude oil exploded.

(Below: Freight rail lines in the Twin Cities)