MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Mark Dayton says he’s deeply concerned about an increase in the number of oil trains traveling through heavily populated areas of the Twin Cities.

In a letter to the President of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Dayton estimates an additional 99,000 people are living within an evacuation zone. The areas include spots where thousands gather at a time, like Target Field and the University of Minnesota.

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Kathy Harrell-Latham lives in downtown Minneapolis with her family.

“We chose this neighborhood because it’s accessible and the risks were relatively limited,” Harrell-Latham said.

She was concerned to learn 11 to 23 crude oil trains per week are being transported on the Willmar-Minneapolis-St. Paul rail line. And it goes by Target Field, Target Center, the U of M and downtown Minneapolis.

“There are people that live here and work here all day and we need the safety measures to go above and beyond,” Harrell-Latham said.

Gov. Mark Dayton wrote a scathing letter to the President of BNSF Railway citing safety concerns and outrage over not being informed of the “significant change in operation, which puts an additional 99,000 Minnesotans at risk.”

That brings the total number in the state to roughly 425,000.

“The Governor is absolutely right there should not be these dangerous oil and ethanol trains being routed through population areas,” DFL Rep. Frank Hornstein said.

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Hornstein championed last year’s crude oil transport response bill. He applauds the Governor’s request for the railway to: issue a public statement about the temporary route, to not operate under Target Field during events and to extend first responder training to affected communities, among others.

It’s in an effort to prevent accidents like this BNSF train that derailed in Montana in July, and a 2013 accident in Quebec that killed 47.

“We need to have a much stronger safety protocol for these trains as they come through but the railroads are not cooperating and now we have more evidence of that,” Hornstein said.

In response, BNSF issued this statement:

“BNSF has multiple routes in the metro area that we utilize for hauling a variety of commodities. We comply with the law and report to the state crude volumes of a certain size and their routes and when they change by 25 percent. That occurred in this case where we have a major expansion project occurring and are rerouting some traffic to accommodate that construction work. Crude oil was already being shipped on the route in question. Volumes and routes can fluctuate for a number of reasons. In all areas of the metro region where we move crude oil and other hazmat, we take a number of steps to reduce risk. We’ll be talking directly with the Governor on his concerns and our ongoing efforts to safely move all commodities by rail.”

Gov. Dayton has asked BNSF to provide a progress report by the end of the month, and urges them to inform him and the public about changes.

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Read Gov. Dayton’s full letter here.

Jennifer Mayerle