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BNSF Marsh 1

BNSF Railway crews work on adding a second rail line through the La Crosse River marsh near River Valley Drive in this May 6, 2015, file photo.

BNSF Railway says a temporary court injunction against use of its new track through the La Crosse River marsh would damage the railroad and disrupt the economy of the northern part of the country.

In documents filed this week, attorneys for BNSF challenge an order issued earlier this month by La Crosse County Circuit Judge Scott Horne, which allowed the railroad to continue construction of a second track through the marsh but restricted use of the track until legal challenges are settled in late September.

That order would have “a serious impact on interstate rail transportation, with effects that will be felt by thousands of rail customers across the northern United States,” the railroad argues.

BNSF says construction of the controversial 4-mile segment will be completed by the end of August, just in time for “fall peak” traffic season, when farmers ship their grain to market and retailers begin stocking up for the holidays.

The La Crosse project is part of the railroad’s $6 billion in network improvements scheduled this year. BNSF says it is intended to solve a bottleneck created by the longest single-track segment between the Twin Cities and Savanna, Ill.

A group of rail safety and environmental advocates led by La Crosse County Supervisor Maureen Freedland sued the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in March, claiming the agency granted BNSF wetland permits without adequate environmental review.

The plaintiffs say the project will result in more trains carrying explosive crude oil through the city and environmentally sensitive areas.

Horne is scheduled to rule on that case Sept. 28. A hearing on the stay is scheduled for next week.

Without use of the second track, BNSF executive Katie Farmer wrote, the railroad will struggle to meet its schedule for expedited intermodal shipments — the cargo containers that carry most of the goods that wind up on store shelves.

That, Farmer said, could result in a replay of the 2013-2014 shipping season, when grain piled up in silos and Midwestern power plants saw coal piles dwindle because of missed shipments.

But Freedland suggests BNSF is using the La Crosse bottleneck as an excuse while focusing on the rapidly expanding oil-by-rail market.

Nationwide, oil-by-rail shipments grew by more than 4,000 percent between 2008 and 2014 as new technology made it easier to extract oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota. Last year, BNSF reported 29 to 39 fully-loaded oil trains per week moving down the Mississippi River, though more recent filings show that volume has ebbed.

“I frankly wonder about their claims that this is necessary … if they aren’t giving priority to crude,” Freedland said. “These are deliberate choices on the part of the railroad that affect transport and how goods get where they need to go.”

BNSF does not address crude shipment numbers in its court filings, focusing instead on intermodal, which it says has grown to a quarter of its total volume.

Freedland and her fellow plaintiffs have argued the expansion will result in an increase in crude and other rail traffic, putting local residents and wildlife at risk and lowering property values of thousands of homes near the tracks.

BNSF has publicly said the project is designed to improve network “fluidity” and efficiency, though the new documents show it would also increase capacity — though not by how much.

In a separate affidavit, BNSF executive Rob Reilly says the current section of single track in La Crosse limits capacity to 50 trains per day and even before the fall peak traffic BNSF “is already pushing beyond the working capacity of this line.”

As a result, Reilly says, trains are stacking up as far north as Winona while waiting to pass and often have to park when crews reach the end of their federally regulated shifts. He cites a recent example when BNSF had 67 trains on the line and 20 had to wait until the next day to get through the bottleneck.

Reilly argues the court order will adversely affect the region as parked trains block intersections and residents have to listen to idling locomotives.

BNSF also argues that Horne’s ruling is invalid because the state has no authority to regulate rail operations.

“Federal law is unambiguous on this issue,” its motion states. “(F)ederal law preempts all efforts to regulate rail transportation under state law. There is abundant case law finding that state governments and state courts cannot prohibit rail operations — for any reason.”

Freedland called that a “power grab” that has frustrated her and other local officials.

“We’ve been told over and over that the local communities have to do what the railroads want,” she said. “Otherwise they’ll call in the federal preemption card.”


(19) comments


What surprise's me is that if this was takeing place 100 years ago, no one would say anything about it. How many of these folks that are against this project drive gas guzzling SUVs? How many of them complain that its to much of a wait at a crossing? How many of them use products transported by trains? If you don't want to see it happen, stop using so much fuel or complaining about the wait times at a crossing or use less products. People want to see a reduction of traffic on the freeways but when it comes to railroads, who may I remind built this country, they are all upset about it. In today's world people complain and want change to there liking, but when it comes to them doing there part, they refuse to do it so nothing gets done.
It also baffles me that a state court judge can rule on a federal matter. The railroad owns the property and the marsh is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, there for BNSF is allowed to use the track


Imagine just for a moment that the truck coming down Bliss Road managed to miss the Bluffside Tavern and went careening into a fuel train stopped on the tracks...hypothetical of course, but that could have been the case. Then what?


That's why I call them bomb trains.


Ironic isnt it,worrying about trains and a truck hits it.


Oh wow. It's interesting that having only one line before didn't "disrupt the economy". And where are all the the local Judge complainers now that a Republican Judge made this call?


Thats exactly what i was thinking..i live close enough to the track to know when the train goes trains hardly at all today from either direction.First one side usually goes through,then the other ..occasionally at the same time.We have had the 2 tracks for years on our end of town.Nothing that I know of to stop the trains today.Guess they must not need to run them that bad.

Melowese Richardson

Uniformed is a bad way to live your life k.


Plenty of petitions against oil trains on the internet..please sign.The rules for the transport of this product are NOT strict enough!!!!


Don't want oil trains, stop driving then


Is it congestion, or are the railroads hauling oil etc at too high a (peak) rate—which is driving its expansion? Evidence suggests the former via speculators driving up global oil prices (CNN Money). (world supply always exceeded demand; that some of our oil comes from unstable regions is nothing new--- so can’t use those arguments).

Supply-demand laws don’t work with oil; so speculators create an artificial market. Wall Street doesn’t “bet” high stakes on oil not ‘intentionally’ held in large reserves over a few years. Oil prices will rise out-of-control again because of the artificial boom-bust they create. RR hauling “rates” help create the problem—too high a supply in too short a time, far-exceeding demand.

Commodity Futures Trading Commission has been made too weak to prevent it all thanks to Enron, Goldman Sachs etc. CFTC needs to be empowered.


correction: I meant “evidence suggests the latter… [speculation, RRs hauling at too high a peak rate]” as the problem.
“price of oil doubled, tripled… quadrupled… from $13 billion to $260 billion … 2003 to 2008”. “a $100 barrel of oil, in reality, should cost $40” (Engdahl).


What is wrong with you small town jerks. There is not going to be more trains moving with two tracks, only less congestion. You are wasting your time and money trying to stop this, its going to happen and you can all stand and watch the trains roll by. You cause more problems to the earth with your every day living habits. Grow up!!!!!
David Lysaker


You sound like a condescending bully from the railroad.

We may be a "small" town, but it's OUR town, not yours to push around.


Read a few of his posts and you would have a pretty good idea...

Tim Russell

City & State Taxpayers will have to cough up money for at least 1 more Overhead as a result of this Project. Taxpayers have a right to object to paying for such.

Melowese Richardson

Do tell, Timmy.


Well said! They have no case what so ever. How many of those that complain about this, drive gas guzzling SUV's or luxury cars that are very hard on fuel?


BNSF is out of control. Whether it's not allowing fishermen to cross the tracks to fish along the river or this recent expansion- their message is clear "get out of the way of our oil shipments." It's time for people to stand up against the out of control rail industry. They simply don't care about communities along the tracks.


A pipeline has been approved from the Bakken fields to Superior, Wisconsin. The route it will take is yet to be determined. The oil company favors a route through remote areas filled with lakes, streams, wetlands and rice areas. The alternative better-for-the-environment path is through more populated areas where a break is easier to detect.
A refinery on the banks of the Mississippi just south of St. Paul
is upgrading to bump its capacity to 100,000 barrels of oil per day.
A Butte County, California, grand jury has found that 3 million gallons of crude rolls trough its Feather River Canyon and city of Oroville each week. Last November 11 cars fell off the track, sent careening by a broken rail, bound for the river, but, fortunately, carrying only corn. The jury recommended that the state inspect the county’s rail bridges, pointing out that there is not even a inventory of bridges, much less a reliable inspection schedule.
The lesson here is that Bakken crude continues to be extracted even though demand for now is down and that our railroad infrastructure needs more maintenance even though the threat of an oil train explosion is markedly up since 2008.
The Federal Railroad Administration is supposed to strictly enforce railroad health and safety regulations and there would be less chance of a derailment if they did. But the words "collegial" and "cooperative" more accurately describe their relationship with the railroads.
Sign the attached petition to let the FRA hear from someone whose first concern is safety not profit. Add a comment so they hear from a counterweight to the stream of railroad lobbyists who form a daily line of supplicants at their door.

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