Last week Hennepin County published the Southwest Light Rail Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which includes both the impacts of the Southwest Light Rail and the potential freight reroute through St. Louis Park. The reroute impacts are severe and many, but keeping our children safe at St. Louis Park High School is reason enough to stop the reroute.
For as long as anyone can remember, freight train traffic passing by the school (and hundreds of homes) has been light—chiefly because the MN&S line, ironically, was originally built for electric passenger trains and is not connected to main lines. Unfortunately, decision-makers in the 1950s placed the high school just 75 feet from the tracks, assuming that light traffic would cause few safety issues or learning disruptions. In actuality, teachers must stop teaching or try to talk over the freight trains whenever they rumble by. Meanwhile, the students feel every one, their desks and chairs shaking. That’s just inside the school.
Outside, every day, kids dash 20 feet in front of moving locomotives to “beat the train” as they head to McDonald’s, the football field, the candy shop and back again. It’s chilling to watch screaming, laughing 16-year-olds run directly in front of a gargantuan, unstoppable freight locomotive. Imagine a student tripping and falling as the locomotive passes over. Or imagine a train derailment with the 60- to 86-foot freight cars hurtling toward the school, the students and staff. In October 2010, one of the very trains in question derailed just two miles from the school.
Now imagine the freight reroute going through and not two daily trains passing by, but up to seven trains a day. And now those trains, some carrying ethanol, aren’t 20 cars long but up to 100 cars each. Imagine.
As has been the pattern for years, Hennepin County commissioners dismiss such safety concerns in their latest report. Incredibly, data tables examining alternative routes merely list the 1,300-student school as one more data point: rating a 1 instead of a zero in the column for schools in the way of freight trains. Safety concerns are brushed off with discussions of potential mitigation such as quiet zones—proven by some studies to actually be dangerous. And what funds have these commissioners devoted to such mitigation in their financial documents? Exactly zero dollars.
We’re nearly at the point of no return. We need the voices of St. Louis Park City Council members, school board members, parents and students to call and email commissioners, and to send their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. We ask everyone who cares about our students to demand that the re-route be stopped. How will these leaders feel when children are killed or injured on these tracks, when leaders had the chance and the responsibility to stop the reroute and didn’t.
By then, of course, it will be too late for our children. And it will be too late for another reason—because federal laws protect railroad corridors in perpetuity. There will be no way to undo another poor decision.