Saturday, July 16, 2011

BNSF derailment in Fridley

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I'll credit Bus Driver Dude for giving me first notice of a BNSF derailment in Fridley. Heavy rains this morning caused a washout near the rail line's crossing of Rice Creek, which feeds into Locke Lake and the Mississippi River. It looks like the water and derailment caused the bridge over Rice Creek to partially collapse, knocking out both tracks, and that will take considerable effort to repair.

This is the busy segment of BNSF's Staples Subdivision, where trains coming in along BNSF's Northern Transcon are mixed with traffic coming down the Hinckley Subdivision line from Duluth. The segment can see more than 60 trains per day, and that includes Metro Transit's Northstar and Amtrak's Empire Builder. Northstar service is cancelled indefinitely at this point, while Amtrak hadn't been running the Builder west of St. Paul due to flooding in Minot, North Dakota over the last few weeks. Amtrak had been planning to resume service this weekend, but it looks like they'll have to postpone.

I don't see any suitable detours available for passenger or freight trains nearby. Minnesota Commercial Railway has a spur that gets frustratingly close to the derailment site, only a few blocks away on the other side of University Avenue, but the only other options are far, far to the north. The Empire Builder used to run south from Fargo to Willmar before heading into the Twin Cities, but I think that route has loading gauge restrictions that probably wouldn't allow Amtrak Superliners to fit. Canadian Pacific has a line running through Detroit Lakes that might be an option, but that's about it. Both lines have 40 mph speed limits for freight. Passenger trains might be able to go 59 or 60, but the lines are primarily single-tracked and would force extra stops.

I suppose the Northstar could operate from Big Lake to Coon Rapids and transfer riders to buses there. It seems kind of silly, but running buses to all of the train stations involves a lot of driving around in circles, which takes a lot of time. Transferring riders could be faster than driving buses the whole way. Sure would have been nice to have the Foley Boulevard station, though, since buses from there to downtown Minneapolis along I-94 supposedly go faster than the Northstar does (because of the speed restrictions around Northtown rail yard).

[Update (7 PM): Metro Transit tentatively plans to resume Northstar service on Tuesday.]

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