Mn/DOT study prioritizes rail safety improvements


$2 million appropriated for crude-by-rail corridors

Safety improvements at highway/rail grade crossings along crude-by-rail corridors are the focus of a Minnesota Department of Transportation study that identifies locations where improvements will make the transport of oil safer for residents, workers and emergency responders. 

The 2014 Minnesota Legislature appropriated $2 million for the implementation of safety improvements and directed Mn/DOT to study the rail lines carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota through Minnesota.

“The basic premise for effective improvements is safety,” said Commissioner Charlie Zelle. “We are facing a continuing presence of crude-by-rail shipments across Minnesota. The safer transport of crude oil will reduce the public’s exposure to derailments, spills and fires that have already occurred in other states.”

The recommended improvements cover some of the most heavily traveled railroad mainlines in the state. All recommendations for specific crossings improve public safety by reducing the risk of train-vehicle accidents. 

The study considers population, facilities and activity within a half-mile radius of each crossing, a distance that represents the evacuation zone around an incident for a flammable material spill and fire.

Mn/DOT evaluated 100 high-priority crossings to determine whether the current installed protection is appropriate or can be improved. Forty sites were researched further, with nine sites determined to be suitable short-term improvement projects for the appropriated funding. A 10th proposed project is a safety education project along key parts of the oil corridor.

Recommended crossing improvement projects are in Big Lake, Clear Lake, Elk River (two sites), Perham, St. Cloud, St. Paul Park, Wadena and Winona. Other projects requiring additional funding are also recommended, including grade separations.

Mn/DOT will work with communities to finalize these recommendations and implement the safety projects. 

The study points to a September 2014 report by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Mn/DOT that forecasts long-term continuing demand for crude oil production. The report states that if demand and production double in volume, it will strain the rail system.

The study also outlines projects that represent other significant and effective safety improvements for future consideration such as rail tank car upgrades and safety education and enforcement. 

Links to Mn/DOT’s website are available below that include the report and its appendices.


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