Minneapolis neighborhood roiled by BNSF Railway's sudden plan to expand

A quiet Minneapolis neighborhood has been roiled by the BNSF Railway's sudden plan to expand its track system.

The railroad plans to lay track closer to houses while leveling a thick tree buffer that once shielded residents from the 92 trains that pass through daily, including several that carry crude oil. BNSF is doing it to alleviate rail congestion heading into its massive Northtown Yard terminal.

The abrupt development illustrates the power of the railroads, which aren't subject to the local approval process that can bog down other big projects, the Star Tribune reported Friday (http://strib.mn/1EFB3S8 ).

"They aggressively told us this is their land, they could do what they want," said Kaline Sandven, whose signs warning strangers to keep out didn't stop a crew from uprooting her cherry trees Thursday. "They don't need permits, they don't need environmental studies. They don't need to study the impact of the devaluation of our homes."

The railroad says about seven properties are directly affected. Maps show they include two 17-unit apartment buildings.

"It's not new traffic in the area," BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said of the new track in northeast Minneapolis. "It's already moving through there on an existing track. Some of it will be now on the new track that will be built."

Some residents recently found surveyor's stakes in their yards, showing where the railroad says garages, fences and trees are encroaching on its property.

McBeth said that if those if owners want to continue using railroad land, BNSF could lease it to them "at a nominal or no fee," or negotiate a sale. But it's important to resolve the issue for liability reasons and future home sales, she said.

"I understand that folks might have thought that the property line was different," McBeth said. "But now that it has been surveyed by a professional surveyor, we need to work with them on those improvements that are on railroad property."