A recent study by the Minnesota Department of Transportation said more than 300,000 Minnesotans live within evacuation limits of the route that oil-carrying trains take from North Dakota through Minnesota.
Lower gas prices have had an added bonus in Minnesota beyond fatter wallets: Train traffic is leveling off, giving regulators space to refocus on safety issues, a state railroad official told lawmakers Wednesday. “That’s the good news. It gives us a little breathing space,” Dave Christianson, a rail planner for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, told a state House committee.
Railroad documents released by the state Department of Public Safety show about 50 trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota are passing through Minnesota each week.
Trains have traveled through this part of Minnesota for just under 150 years, and as the small town of Staples grew around their tracks, railroads were virtually the only source of jobs for decades. “Four hundred men used to work in these offices,” Tom Kajer, 75, head of the Staples Historical Society, said as he walked on the fiberglass- and plaster-littered floors of the original depot’s second story. “Now, zero do.”