BNSF: Court ruling will have serious impact on northern U.S. economy

Initial court hearing Sept. 3

Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad is challenging a court ruling that does not allow trains to use the second track it’s adding through La Crosse until after a hearing late next month, but in documents filed this week by a BNSF attorney, the company said the court order will have a serious impact on rail transportation across the northern United States.

Members of the group Citizens Acting For Rail Safety filed a lawsuit against BNSF in March, claiming the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources gave BNSF a wetland permit without a thorough environmental review. La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge Scott Horne placed a stay on train traffic on the second line earlier this month.

BNSF is asking the court to reconsider the stay because it “comes at the worst possible time for BNSF and its customers.”

BNSF said in September its rail traffic increases in what it calls “fall peak” as retailers prep for the holiday season and farmers send their crops to market.

An affidavit from the attorney for BNSF said, “Every day this order is in effect will create a serious risk of congestion and delay on a major artery of interstate transportation that is critical to the U.S. economy. … Farmers seeking to move grain to market could experience delays at a critical time in their market cycle. Retailers could have difficulty stocking up for the most important time of the year in their market.”

Sarah Williams of Midwest Environmental Advocates is the attorney representing CARS. Williams said this is not a new argument from BNSF.

“They raised a lot of these concerns in previous briefings and affidavits to the court, so that’s information that the court considered in balancing all the factors, including the petitioners’ interests in protecting the environment, until an adequate environmental assessment can be done,” Williams said.

Williams said her team is still looking into whether BNSF’s claims are valid, but said what she knows is true is that if more trains are coming through La Crosse, as is expected, that creates many more dangers for residents here.

“A train derailment can cause serious impacts no matter what they’re hauling, but when you consider that they’re hauling highly volatile crude oil in many of these trains and the potential for explosions and leaks into the adjacent marsh, the La Crosse River, the Mississippi River, that definitely increases the seriousness of potential impacts,” Williams said.

BNSF expects to have construction completed on the second track by the beginning of September.

There is a hearing on the stay Thursday, Sept. 3, at 11:30 a.m. at the La Crosse County Courthouse.

Arguments from both sides and a final ruling on the case will take place Sept. 28.