Dozens voice concerns over second rail line in La Crosse

Wisconsin DNR hosts public hearing Wednesday

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is still on track to get a second rail line in La Crosse.

The city of La Crosse has already agreed to a $4 million deal with BNSF but to move forward with plans, the railway company now needs a permit of approval from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. It’s something many residents hope doesn’t happen without a closer look at how it could impact the marsh.

Many at the DNR’s public hearing talked about the marsh as a valuable resource and worried that a second rail line would take away from the marsh.

“I use the marsh, and many people use the marsh frequently for their classes and for teaching,” said Colin Belby, an assistant professor of geography at UW-La Crosse.

“I  am concerned that my classroom is in jeopardy of being destroyed by the unsafe transportation of oil through the marsh,” said Marina Dvorak, student at UW-La Crosse.

Others voiced concerns over the safety. Former firefighter and current City Council member Fran Formanek said the disaster training isn’t enough.

“Well let me tell you something, if something happens out there and is an explosion, that response team is never going to be here in time to do anything as far as that is concerned,” said Formanek.

That is why many asked for the DNR to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement to take a closer look.

“I would also ask for extensive study on the wetlands here,” said Edie Ehlert, a member of the Crawford Stewardship Project.

On the other side, there was one person who talked in favor of the project.

“Our union totally supports the second main line,” said Rick Hauser, a railroad worker who is a member of the Smart Transportation Division Union.

Hauser said when it comes down to safety a second rail line will actually help.

“More issues happen when we change from two main lines to one main line,” said Hauser.

But he agrees with the opposition on upgrading the oil tank cars and reducing the volatility of the crude oil.

Now it’s up to the DNR to decide what to do next.

“We take all the comments back, we look at the comments in comparison to the info we have already gathered and look for any gaps in that information,” said Dan Baumann, Wisconsin DNR.

If you weren’t able to make it to the public hearing and would like to voice your opinion about the second rail line in La Crosse, you can send an email to Carrie Olson at or you can send her a letter at Carrie Olson, 3550 Mormon Coulee Road, La Crosse WI 54601. They will be accepting public input until Jan. 17.

If the Wisconsin DNR approves the permit for the second rail line, BNSF will still need to get other permits from multiple organizations, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Ho-Chunk Nation.