Crews fix improperly installed Southwest LRT tracks

Construction crews over the weekend fixed improperly installed train tracks along the $2.9 billion Southwest light-rail corridor in Minneapolis.

Freight tracks were shifted at W. 21st Street in Minneapolis, where freight and light rail trains will share a narrow corridor, according to Terri Dresen, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning body that is building the 14.5-mile Green Line extension linking downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. Service is expected to begin in 2027.

Last spring, Minneapolis resident Marion Collins suspected the space between freight and light-rail tracks near her home was too narrow. After measuring, she found her hunch was correct.

Collins knew the distance between the center of one set of tracks and the middle of the other was designed to be 25 feet to separate light-rail and freight trains near the W. 21st Street station. But her measurement found the distance was nearly 11 inches short of the mark.

She alerted transit officials, who later said they would tear up the tracks and install them properly. The additional work, they said, would not affect the project’s overall price tag, which is already more than $1 billion over budget.

At the time, officials from the Met Council and Twin Cities & Western Railroad, which operates freight trains in the corridor, downplayed the problem, saying it could be easily remedied.

On Monday, Dresen said the measurement at the closest distance between the center line of the freight track and the center line of the nearest light rail track is a quarter of an inch beyond the required 25-foot separation at the W. 21st Street crossing.

But neighbors, some of whom sued the Met Council a decade ago to stop the project, say the incident raises questions about construction of the line, especially since freight trains often carry hazardous materials in a densely populated area.

The Southwest project has been dogged by delays and cost overruns and it has prompted a review by the state’s Legislative Auditor. Southwest is currently the largest public works project in state history, but the Blue Line extension between Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park could usurp that title with a budget of $2.9 billion to $3.2 billion.

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