Bakken Oil Train Hits Semi At Unsafe Crossing

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There is a poorly secured railroad crossing in Saint Paul Park (south of Saint Paul, Minnesota) where a small industrial road crosses a BNSF track. The crossing has warning lights but no barriers. Yesterday (June 7, 2015) a semi crossing the tracks was hit by a Bakken oil train coming down the BNSF line.

The Bakken oil trains on this BNSF line has been an increasing matter of concern. As Bakken oil trains derail and in some cases catch fire en route from the Dakotas to the east coast, folks who see these trains run by their homes, through their small towns, and across their travel routes have been asking questions about safety. Minnesota Governor Dayton recently noted that this particular crossing is a dangerous one, and he has been trying to get it closed. Too late for this incident, though.

The incident was fairly benign. No one was injured. The truck was destroyed and the flour it contained is all over the place. The BNSF track, and other tracks, have a lot of curves in this area, where the trains snake among various bodies of water (including the Mississippi) and urban zones, and at the site of this accident, refinery complexes. For this reason the trains are usually going rather slow, I assume.

Fox 9 quotes Saint Paul Park Mayor Keith Frank as saying “We’ve definitely had concerns about this crossing for some time.” He also noted “I think part of the problem is who’s going to pay for it. The city doesn’t have the money to take on that expense, how much the state should pay versus how much people think the railroads should pay.”

Safety improvements at this and other intersections are not being planned, as a dysfunctional (due to contamination by Republicans, mainly) legislature has been unable to manage the state’s budget this year.

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8 thoughts on “Bakken Oil Train Hits Semi At Unsafe Crossing

  1. at the site of this accident, refinery complexes

    Which means that St. Paul Park dodged a bullet. This time.

    I’d expect that overlapping jurisdictions may be an issue. Who owns the street in question? If it’s a municipal road, they might be able to close it unilaterally (IANAL nor a Minnesota resident, so I don’t know what procedure is involved). But if it’s under county or state maintenance, closing it would be harder. Of course, if it’s part of the state highway system, then having the state pay for it should be a no-brainer. And perhaps it qualifies for federal matching funds.

  2. May be wrong here but every bus and truck in my area all STOP at safe RR crossings, and then go. The truck driver cannot stop and listen at least and look before going????
    But I also agree that our infrastructure is in very bad shape thanks to the rePUKEians and the hawks that like spending huge sums on illegal wars but not on americans.

  3. This is in an industrial area with a lot of truck traffic. I would think that trucks would stop and wait! But it has been said, but this is not verified, that this particular truck tried to “outrun” the train. I’m not sure if that statement is accurate.

    The way to keep trucks or cars (or people walking) from outrunning the train, of course, is to have a barrier.

    There have been a lot of upgrades along the BNSF line to make this happen, including the second nearest crossing to my house, where a young girl was killed a few years ago because she waited for the train to pass, then ran across the tracks, but did not see the second train coming from the other direction. The new crossings keep a pedestrian barrier down which would have made that difficult (but not impossible).

    The point is, long way around, there are not a lot of intersections that need that much more work to tie this up.

    Having said that, even the new intersections are problematic . At a crossing near my house, there is a stoplight just down the way. When traffic backs up because of a long train (happens several times a day) traffic then flows over the tracks and is often stopped at that traffic light, a short block down the road. I’ve often seen cars stopped on the track (though they should not have proceeded) stuck there for a minute while the light changes. I think it is only a matter of time before that small but important mistake leads to an accident.

  4. When traffic backs up because of a long train (happens several times a day) traffic then flows over the tracks and is often stopped at that traffic light, a short block down the road.

    The obvious (but impractical, as it would require major expenditures that politicians are unwilling to make) solution to this problem is to eliminate at-grade railroad crossings whenever possible. Most northeastern states try to do this, as do the European countries where I have traveled by rail–we haven’t eliminated them entirely, but at least the ones we do have aren’t close to traffic signals. Obviously, dedicated high-speed rail lines (Shinkansen, ICE, TGV, etc.) are designed with grade separation in mind, as are freeways and turnpikes.

    I know this is especially impractical in much of the central US, where the combination of flat terrain and major streets built directly next to rail lines make it difficult to eliminate at-grade railroad crossings entirely. But where it can be done, it’s well worth the effort. As you say, when a signalized intersection is that close to an at-grade crossing of a heavily used railroad, it’s a matter of time before something of this sort happens.

  5. Lots of dangerous crossings here too, and no real desire by authorities to push for safety upgrades – the magical power of economics will take care of it, apparently.

    Still, I’ve gotten rather pessimistic about the level of good it will do. This

    but this is not verified, that this particular truck tried to “outrun” the train.

    reminds me of the line “No matter how idiot proof we make things, nature will come up with bigger and better idiots.”

  6. Eric, the next crossing down has more traffic, and potentially similar problems. we also have the problem that the fire department has to cross the tracks often, and a huge area to the north of the tracks is served by an ER to the south of it, and there is a long stretch with only at grade crossings. So, the idea is to build that second higher use crossing a nice bridge.

    But I’m pretty sure the legislature’s Republicans are not going to do that.

    Also, the afore mentioned crossing problem could be reduced by eliminating the light down the street. That would be a bit inconvenient, though.

  7. When I was driving in Mountain View, CA, I regularly saw cars pull onto the Caltrain tracks to wait out a red light. I always wondered what those drivers would do if a commuter train came barreling down the line. Luckily, I guess, I never saw this happen.

    Tempting as it is, I won’t get into a diatribe about drivers who don’t seem to think. But I wonder.

  8. One reason for drivers trying to “outrun” trains, is that they perceive trains as moving slower than they actually are – it’s known in vision science as the “airport phenomenon.” So drivers think they have more time to cross the tracks than they actually have. Possibly impatience is a problem too, because trains usually take a very long time to pass a railway crossing.

    Briefly, small objects are perceived as moving faster than they really are, and large objects are perceived as moving slower than they really are. And a train is a very large object!

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