Rail Work

BNSF Railway crew members and contractors work Thursday to add a second track along 28th St. near the State Road overpass.

BNSF Railway has been given a green light to build a controversial second track through the La Crosse River marsh. 

Despite requests from environmentalists as well as state and federal lawmakers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued BNSF a permit to fill 7.28 acres of wetlands and about 0.1 acres of the river without conducting a comprehensive environmental review.

Contractors began work as soon as the permit was issued April 14, said BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth.

“It wasn’t a total surprise, although it was a disappointment,” said Ralph Knudson, spokesman for Citizens Acting for Rail Safety, which has challenged the project in court.

The marsh work is part of a BNSF project already underway that will add about four miles of new tracks through the city of La Crosse between Farnam and Gillette streets. The entire project is expected to be complete by fall.

The railroad has said the upgrade should ease delays at each end of what is the area’s only section of singe track. Because of the location of BNSF’s North Side rail yard and its crossing of the Canadian Pacific line and the constraints of the Mississippi River and bluffs, BNSF says finding an alternative route is unrealistic.

The project is one of 13 planned upgrades the railroad is making to its route along the Mississippi River between the Twin Cities and the Illinois border.

Opposition to the project goes beyond immediate impact on the marsh.

Environmental and public safety activists argue it will allow BNSF to transport even more volatile crude oil from North Dakota through population centers and sensitive environmental areas along the Mississippi River.

CARS complained the Corps of Engineers failed to consider the cumulative impact to both the marsh and the Upper Mississippi River basin.

“We will also continue to work at both the state and federal levels to make safe the quickly increasing numbers of dangerous trains that pass through our community so that we minimize risk and protect the marsh environment and public assets.”

The additional line has also drawn complaints that it will mean more trains through La Crosse, increasing noise, traffic and vibrations along the track.

Citing both environmental and public safety concerns, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, along with Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse and Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota all asked the Corps of Engineers to conduct an EIS on the project.

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“The effects of BNSF’s expansion project have implications for the citizens and environment of Minnesota’s First Congressional District,” Walz wrote in his letter to the Corps. “Given the severity of recent freight train derailments in Canada and throughout the U.S. — thereby introducing materials like crude oil into the natural environment.”

In its environmental worksheet the Corps of Engineers dismissed calls for an EIS, saying “the project considered in this document is not a federal project and is not expected to have a significant impact on the Mississippi River.”

The Corps, which did not hold a public hearing on the permit request, announced in a letter dated April 23 that it issued a wetland permit more than 10 days earlier.

Senior Project Manager David Studenski said there was no public notice of the permit, but those who commented or requested notification were sent a letter. Spokespeople for Kind and Baldwin said their offices received the letter Monday.

Baldwin issued a statement expressing disappointment in the decision to issue the permit without a full environmental review.

“The consequences of increased traffic and the threat to the environment from an oil train spill should have received the scrutiny provided by an Environmental Impact Study.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources granted BNSF a wetland permit in February, also without a full Environmental Impact Statement.

The DNR permit says BNSF is responsible for mitigation and restoration of the La Crosse River and marsh in the event of a derailment or spill. It does not specify a penalty if the railroad fails to meet that obligation.

Under the DNR permit, work must be completed by February 2018 and is prohibited between mid-May and the end of July, the nesting period for the endangered black tern, although BNSF has applied for a permit to continue work during that period.

CARS, with the help of Midwest Environmental Advocates, has challenged the DNR permit. A hearing is scheduled next week before La Crosse County Circuit Judge Scott Horne.

Staff attorney Sarah Williams said that if Horne rules in their favor, CARS will request he impose a stay that would temporarily halt construction.

“It wasn’t a total surprise, although it was a disappointment.” Ralph Knudson, spokesman for Citizens Acting for Rail Safety

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(26) comments


From what I understand there is ONE person running the trains now. That is one big responsibility. What if that person is tired, drunk, sick, or what ever it may be. Not only is it more dangerous for those living close to the tracks the wildlife on this are affected tremendously. Removing the Eagle nests especially now when they were raising their families.is beyond disgusting. The other wildlife that are having their babies this time of year should not be disturbed. Why was it so important to do this in the middle of the city now, at this time for BN which has been here for so many years. Mr. Buffet does not care about you, he gets what he wants, and has the money to buy it. Shame on those who caved!!.

Melowese Richardson

From what I understand there is ONE person running the trains now.


You understand wrong.


Removing the Eagle nests especially now when they were raising their families.is beyond disgusting.


Wrong again. No eagle nest is being removed. God, where do you guys come up with this stuff???


Don't buy any house even close to a flood plain. All that fill in the marsh will mean about 1000 more homes flooded in the next flood. If you own one, sell it.


What could possibly go wrong?


We hear you loud and clear, UW.


Re: "The additional line has also drawn complaints that it will mean more trains through La Crosse, increasing noise, traffic and vibrations along the track."

Either move the houses or move the train routes. The new status quo will prove unacceptable. Worse, government officials continue to blow off the safety risks...they continue to put La Crosse families at risk of death by agonizing immolation. That's evil!

Incendie à Lac-Mégantic


you think you know

That Canada accident has been proven time and time again to be operator error. On top of that, there was a mechanical issue that caused a fire in the locomotive while safely parked. It wasn't until after that fire, and the fire department shutting the engine off and not contacting the railroad that the brakes released.

That explosion you love to bring up had nothing to do with the normal operation of a train hauling oil.


(That's why they call them accidents).


what the devil do you think you know? Most accidents are due to human error. If there was an accident on the single line going through the marsh, almost certainly it would have been due to human error. That does not excuse the presence of the railroad running through the wetland, any more than the suicidal pilot excuse the German airline of all the deaths in the deliberate crash in France.


political contributions pay off.


You can only spend so much. Sooner or later you have to buy a politician.

Melowese Richardson

Well obviously Hillary is for sale to the highest bidder.

Deadwood subscriber

Operate phrase: "...without conducting a comprehensive environmental review."

If there is any negative impact on the marsh or, god forbid, an actual spill, I trust @pahoehoe and @justwatching will be the first two citizens to throw their money, time, and effort behind the clean-up effort.


News flash, there already was a set of tracks going through the marsh, there already were trains going over those tracks that run through the marsh, there already was a chance of an oil spill from the trains that over the tracks that run through though the marsh


How they will just travel faster and more frequently and given BN's record of bridge and crossing maintenance, accidents will happen. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. It's just a matter of when. (and I own stock in Berkshire Hathaway and I am not happy with their behavior and integrity in this matter)

Melowese Richardson

And wrong on this issue also Mack. Jeez, you're having a bad day.

Melowese Richardson

By the way, if you do, in fact, own BRK stock you think you would have at least some idea how many jobs company you own stock in has in your home town.


What is the financial benefit to La Crosse?

Melowese Richardson

You mean other than ensuring that approximately 400 high paying jobs stay here in La Crosse. And the millions of dollars those employees spend with the local business (both small and large) which, in turn, keeps all those jobs here also. You do mean other than that, d-j?


400 jobs? Really? You sound like Weber.

Melowese Richardson

400 is a conservative number Mack. Doesn't it bother you to be wrong all the time. Hell, I don't like it when it happens to me, which isn't very often.


could you please enumerate specifically what these jobs are and who is employing them?

Melowese Richardson

I'm not sure what you're asking oldhome. BNSF employees 400 people here in La Crosse and the the the money those employees spend at local business establishments hekp keep those business' afloat. Also, your need to factor in all the money that BNSF itself spends on goods and services here in town.


Yes, let the bomb trains continue.


This will be good for La Crosse. Glad to see it happen.


probably a good idea to let them do it ( since they already have!)

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