Railroad activities have whole communities steamed

Cardigan Junction in Shoreview lies right beside a well established neighborhood off Rice Street north of I-694. (Linda E. Andersen/Bulletin)

Residents in Shoreview, Cardigan Junction neighborhood at the epicenter of increased rail activity in north metro

Joshua Nielsen
Bulletin staff

Residents of the Cardigan Junction neighborhood in Shoreview finally had a chance to voice their discord with increased rail activity near their homes with senior officials of Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) at a private meeting on Thursday, Nov. 7. 

CPR, which owns the Cardigan Junction railway intersection and switching yard in the southeastern Shoreview neighborhood, has seen a boom in business lately, according to Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the company.

"Cardigan Junction has always been a critical path of our trains, and other rail carriers," Greenberg said. "As a result of improvements in local and global economic factors, it is being used more frequently. In essence, the junction itself is being used for what it has always been intended."

This does not sit well with many who have lived in the neighborhood for decades and insist they have not experienced significant problems with noise at the junction until this summer.  Most folks moved to the neighborhood just north of I-694 and west of Rice Street for its relatively quiet location and natural beauty. The area is surrounded by wetlands and is just blocks away from Lake Vadnais with several parks nearby.

"In the 30 years I've lived here it has never been a switching yard, it's been a pass through for a few trains," said Jan Bunde, who lives in the neighborhood. "To have this activity in such a small area seems unbelievable. It's not the right place. They have industrial areas where they can do this."

Sleep deprived in Shoreview

Another resident, Marcia Figus, said she and her neighbors’ quality of life has been compromised by the around the clock noise of freighters with upwards of 100 cars rumbling through with horns blaring, and the smacking of rail cars during switching operations. Figus said she has not slept for more than a few hours a night for months. And this is just part of the problem, she said. Both women say they have had to endure the sound of engines idling at all hours, sometimes for 24 hours straight, and are concerned by train cars sitting with toxic chemicals like chlorine, which are left unattended at the junction. Figus said there are times she won't go outside not just because of the racket, but because of the thick plumes of black smoke and diesel fumes that linger in the air, making breathing difficult.

Jan Bunde's husband, Don, said he has noticed many dry spills along and near the tracks and is concerned that the material could leach its way into the groundwater. There are also concerns that polluted runoff will end up in nearby Grass and Vadnais Lakes. Don Bunde noted that Lake Vadnais supplies much of St. Paul's drinking water. 

"The noise affects us, but the water quality will affect the whole area," he said.

Another area of concern, which residents expressed to representatives of CPR, was with traffic backups at area rail crossings. Shoreview's Mayor Sandy Martin, who also attended the meeting with CPR executives, said the trains, which are often over a mile long, have been blocking the city's four crossings for up to 35 minutes. She said this has impacted businesses because employees are late to work, and it affects response time for emergency vehicles that need to get through. She said the federal law only allows for crossings to be blocked for ten minutes at a time.

"The positive news is the people in Cardigan Junction were able to take time to explain how their quality of life has been affected," Martin said. "This is a different use then what they are accustomed to and it has all been very disruptive.”

Martin said CPR representatives listened and said they were looking at changing their use of the property, but did not make any promises. Martin said it's a difficult situation, because railroads are regulated by federal law and do not need permission from cities and counties to conduct their operations.

"The question I asked them was is it the right thing to do?" Martin said.

Greenburg said CPR is currently reviewing potential ways of addressing residents' concerns in the Cardigan Junction area and other areas across the metro, while at the same time continuing to respond to the shipping requirements of their customers.

"It strikes me as hopeful that they came to listen," Martin said. "We have been frustrated for months with not being heard. It's up to them to make a difference.

Shoreview not alone

Residents in neighboring Little Canada have also been impacted by noise and delays at crossings, and so have others living in Arden Hills, Vadnais Heights and Roseville, said Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman. Huffman met with CPR officials in October along with government officials from each of those cities to express residents' concerns about the spike in rail activity in recent months.

"We are working with them to see how we can reduce the late night noise," Huffman said.

According to Huffman, CPR officials said during the meeting that they would look into doing the train switching at a different yard, but made no promises.

Little Canada's Mayor Bill Blesener said he has heard from dozens of residents asking why they are suddenly hearing train horns blaring through the night when they never have in the past.

"We are looking for a little more consideration from them," Blesener said.

In the meantime, the cities of Shoreview and Little Canada recently hired SEH Inc. to conduct Rail Quiet Zone and Operation studies. The studies will take place over a 90-day period and will determine what improvements would be needed to implement quiet zones at rail crossings in the two cities. Quiet zones are sections of track typically one-half mile long where train crews do not routinely blow train horns at railroad crossings. Federal law mandates that train operators sound train horns through intersections, however, if certain railroad crossing protection devices are used to keep vehicles from crossing (along with other improvement), a quiet zone can be established. Those improvements can run as much as $250,000 per crossing, depending on the features at a particular crossing, Huffman said. Shoreview has four at-grade rail crossings and Little Canada has five.

Even if quiet zones are established, the residents near Cardigan Junction are still concerned about how CPR is using the Junction differently than they have in the past and are worried that things will only get worse.

"There's always hope things will change, but I won't believe it until I see it," Jan Bunde said.

Greenberg said CPR values the input they have received from residents and feel strongly about finding ways of co-existing with neighborhoods near Cardigan Junction and throughout the area.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

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