February 10, 2018 10:11 PM
Negotiations appear to have stalled over whether the proposed Blue Line light rail will share space in the BNSF Railway corridor northwest of Minneapolis.
In a letter dated Jan. 9, BNSF Vice President Richard Weicher wrote in part, "BNSF is not prepared to proceed with any discussion of a passenger rail in this corridor at this time."
The letter, addressed to Blue Line Expansion Project Director Daniel Soler, explained the railroad doesn't think the project "would be consistent with our passenger principles or protect the long-term viability of freight service..." along the railroad's current right-of-way.
Met Council's proposal for the Blue Line expansion would run a portion of the 13-mile transportation line next to BNSF's tracks in the railroad's right-of-way.
BNSF's letter came as a response to an earlier request from Soler. In a letter from December, Soler asked the railroad to "re-engage discussions" about the proposal.
"The Met Council proposes to resume discussions about BLRT focusing on how the project meets the BNSF Commuter Principles," a portion of the letter stated.
A BNSF spokesperson told KSTP on Saturday the railroad "has long-standing passenger principles we use to evaluate passenger projects" and said the company "raised these issues previously and after another recent review, we communicated to Met Council that we are not discussing passenger rail in this corridor."
Met Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff responded to BNSF's claims, issuing this statement:
"This is another step in the negotiating process. We take BNSF's concerns seriously, and we're confident we can work together with them to address their concerns. The Bottineau project is an important one to our region, and we're looking forward to advancing it with all our partners."
Local leaders watching the negotiations play out say the back-and-forth is not unexpected. Mike Opat is the Hennepin County commissioner who represents a large portion of the area the Blue Line expansion would run through.
"At the beginning of any negotiation, sides posture and in my other experiences, discussions have started off a lot worse than this one is," Opat said in an interview Saturday. "We're confident that this can work. There's plenty of room within the BNSF right-of-way for both freight rail and LRT to co-exist."
Other city leaders, like Crystal Mayor Jim Adams, said they anticipated the stiff negotiations, but are worried about what could end up being sacrificed as a result.
"Our concern is what's going to be negotiated away and how's it going to affect Crystal, how's it going to affect some of the surrounding cities," Adams said.
Met Council said major construction on the proposed expansion could start in 2019.
Updated: February 10, 2018 10:11 PM
Created: February 10, 2018 08:24 PM
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