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House panel sends bill that would limit train length to next stop

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

Waiting at train crossings can be a daily inconvenience for some people.  However, if you are in an ambulance and the train is 2 or 3 miles long, waiting risks more than being late for a movie.

Preventing ultralong trains from cutting communities in half for minutes, and sometimes hours, is one of the impetuses behind HF3499, which calls for a limit on train length to 8,500 feet — about 1.5 miles.

House transportation committee approves bill to limit train length to 8,500 feet 3/12/24

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter), it was approved Tuesday by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee on a 9-6 party-line vote and sent to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee. The bill, as amended, also would require increased insurance coverage when crews travel to work and includes penalties for failing to do so.

The bill, along with a few other Brand bills heard by the committee, aim to have the state improve safety for railroad workers and communities in areas where the federal government has failed to act.

Longer trains are more difficult to drive and can be too big for existing infrastructure. Trainyards and terminals do not have the capacity to handle 2- or 3-mile trains and that can cause hours-long backups, said Joel Mueller, chair of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division 9.

More freight cars have the potential to cause much more damage if they do crash.

Bill opponents, however, say the limit would put more trains on the tracks, cause congestion delays and unnecessarily drive up costs for all consumers. As an example, they said imagine a freight train carrying goods from California having to stop and remove cars when it gets to the Minnesota border.

Moreover, an 8,500-foot limit is arbitrary and ignores technological improvements which have significantly decreased the number of derailments.

Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca) isn’t convinced the Legislature is best positioned to decide train length. He noted increased size in other shipping industries, but said any business is leery about adding more risk.

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