For those of you outside greater (and lesser) Minneapolis, we’re talking about the Kenilworth corridor in southwest Minneapolis. Formerly home to the Minneapolis & St.Louis railroad main line to the west and south, this skinny little sliver of Right Of Way is currently shared by a slow single track line that is the Twin Cities & Western (TC&W) railroad’s outlet to the greater rail network and a very popular bike trail. It’s owned by county, whose long term plan is to replace the TC&W tracks with light rail lines.

The cast of characters set, some unexpected drama began. The “script” calls for the TC&W to move to a parallel line via an improved turnout track, then another turnout would be reinstalled so they could get onto the BNSF rail line they now exit onto. The bike trail maybe gets moved over a scooch, and the double track light rail line replaces the single track the TC&W now uses. The orchestra was all tuned up, the set in place and the actors ready to play their parts, and most importantly US DOT was pretty much committed to fund the performance… “Twas like a fine theatrical performance about to be performed, culminating in light rail passenger trains running from the southwest suburbs to downtown Minneapolis.

As expected, a few of the “extras”, like the neighborhood NIMBYs along the TC&W reroute promoted themselves to speaking parts and whined about the additional 3 trains a day that move would bring. Yup, here they are, in a city named after the Minneapolis and St.Louis railroad, having bought houses along an already existing railroad, loudly complaining that they were actually going to run trains along said railroad! But the real prima donna was Twin Cities & Western. Now a bit of history is in order here… back in the 80s recession TC&W bought the superbly engineered Milwaukee Road mainline from a bit west of Minneapolis out towards South Dakota at salvage prices. Scrappers they were, they shut down and scrapped the Milwaukee Road’s signal system and turned their tracks into “dark territory” and dredged up some scrapyard worthy locomotives and hopper cars and hauled grain. A quarter century later, there moving maybe three short trains a day with more tired old locomotives. But TC&W saw their chance to be a major “player”…

So with the design in the final stages and pretty much fixed, TC&W barges to the front of the stage and screams, demanding a complete redesign to give them high speed turnout tracks so their three trains a day can make the turn onto their new route at somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 MPH, and another high speed turnout to the tracks going the other way that they hardly ever go anyways. A bit arrogant for a cheapskate rummage sale railroad  whose own tracks are only rated for 30 and even 20 MPH, and whose own locomotives probably couldn’t do 40 MPH with a loaded train anyhow. Said high speed turnout tracks would have taken out a fair chunk of “downtown” St.Louis Park, which brought the St.Louis Park NIMBY chorus  to full song. Naive and buffaloed, this sent most of the involved politicians in search of really crazy solutions, like a couple hundred million dollars worth of below the water table tunnels to fit two light rail tracks, a freight track for TC&W, and the aforementioned bike path through the skinny Kenilworth Corridor.

Fortunately, we have some wiser heads in the house… The workers who actually run trains, the members and their leaders of the United Transportation Union (UTU). These folks are natural problem solvers- every day they figure out how to take long trains of cars for dozens of destinations apart, sort them out, and send them on their way without missing a beat. And this isn’t the first time the UTU has put their heads to-and solved-what seemed to be unsolvable problems. A few years back when the DM&E was trying to borrow a billion or so to become a major coal hauling line, the UTU analyzed that bogus plan and wisely predicted it would be a failure. With coal shipments declining, in hindsight UTU has 20/20 vision.

Here’s the UTU’s analysis of TC&W’s demand:

The UTU has precisely sorted out TC&W’s trainload of BS. They have set out TC&W’s exaggerated claims, and coupled together a logical solution: A pair of much less intrusive turnouts that will be perfectly adequate for any trains TC&W even dreams of running. And at a savings of at least a hundred million dollars… Who says union labor costs more?