MnDOT, BNSF Railway close St. Paul Park crossing
Closure increases public safety near oil refinery
ST. PAUL, Minn. — State transportation officials closed a rail crossing near an oil refinery in St. Paul Park Oct. 24, diverting mostly commercial truck traffic to an existing overpass to decrease the potential of vehicles colliding with freight trains.
“This closure takes away another potential point of contact between the public and trains in the state at a high-risk location,” said Jim Weatherhead, Minnesota Department of Transportation project manager. “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 highway-rail grade crossings identified the crossing near Hastings Avenue and First Street in St. Paul Park as a high safety risk. The area is in an industrial part of the city and 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.
MnDOT worked with the cities of St. Paul Park and Newport to close the crossing and upgrade an existing road to divert traffic to the nearby overpass. The $954,000 project, which started in July 2016, included removing the existing road, building a cul-de-sac for traffic turnaround and restoring the area.
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 Amy McBeth,
BNSF’s Public Affairs director. “So in addition to public education on traffic laws and rail safety, we also work with communities and have closed more than 6,000 crossings on our network to further reduce potential risk.”
“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 collision between an oil train and a semi-truck occurred in June 2015, prompting Gov. Mark Dayton to hold a news conference at the location and call for the crossing to be closed.
Negotiations to close the crossing were already under way since there had been several other near-miss incidents and property damage crashes.