Lakeville's 'Rail-Car Problem' Gets Attention of Klobuchar, Kline

Nearby residents and even the city of Lakeville have expressed frustration over the empty rail-cars line Lakeville's County Road 50 gateway into downtown. Now Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. John Kline are getting involved.

It might just take a little bit of federal muscle to move the into downtown.

On July 5, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Congressman John Kline, (R-Second District) of Lakeville, sent a letter to the Surface Transportation Board urging they take action and help find a solution to the .

For years, the city of Lakeville has expressed its displeasure with storage of the empty cars along the exempt rail-line by Progressive Rail, a Lakeville company that owns the tracks. Residents who own homes facing, and in many cases, have backyards butting up to the rail-cars—they feel more than frustration in many cases.

Neighbors have complained the rail-cars are a splattered with profane graffiti, present safety hazards and are poorly maintained with regard to debris and garbage. The city has held a number of meetings to address the concerns, but could take no formal action other than asking for federal action.

“My kids, who were five and seven at the time, asked me about some words on the train and I had to quickly think up an age appropriate definition which doesn’t make me happy,” Anglea Vanden Busch, a Lakeville resident who has had enough of the blight caused by the rail cars in her backyard, told Patch last year. “My seven-year old said ‘What does rape mean, Mom?’ I had to quick say something.”

“The storage of the cars is allowed under federal law and local communities do not have regulatory authority over the storage,” said Steve Mielke, Lakeville’s city administrator who has fielded numerous complaints on the issue.

The letter urges Daniel R. Elliott III, chairman of the Surface Transportation Board, to facilitate a "resolution to this ongoing impasse" by pressing Progressive Rail into finding a different place for the cars.

"“The storage of these rail cars has caused adjacent residential property owners to express concerns regarding negative effects on their homes and the general welfare of the community," the letter said.

will have more ont his story as it progresses.

Full text of the letter:

July 5, 2012
The Honorable Daniel R. Elliott III                 
Chairman, Surface Transportation Board
395 E Street, SW
Washington, DC  20423
Dear Chairman Elliott: 
As you continue your work to resolve railroad rate and service disputes, we want to bring to your attention an ongoing dispute involving a rail company, the City of Lakeville, and its residents.  We request your assistance in facilitating a resolution to this ongoing impasse.
Progressive Rail – a contract rail carrier that operates nearly 80 miles of line in the Twin Cities area – has been storing inactive rail cars on the City of Lakeville’s freight railroad tracks for several years due to the continued economic downturn.  The storage of these rail cars has caused adjacent residential property owners to express concerns regarding negative effects on their homes and the general welfare of the community.

City officials and local residents have repeatedly asked Progressive Rail officials to be more courteous to the community in which they operate and relocate the rail cars to a different location or limit the number of cars stored. The City of Lakeville has held a number of public meetings and ultimately passed a resolution requesting federal action to limit the storage of rail cars in or adjacent to urbanized residential areas. 
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter of critical concern to my constituents.  We look forward to continuing to work with you on this important issue.  For further questions or additional follow up, please contact Yelena Vaynberg with Congressman Kline at yelena.vaynberg@mail.house.gov or Travis Talvitie with Senator Klobuchar at travis_talvitie@klobuchar.senate.gov.


Crystal July 12, 2012 at 07:10 PM
OR it could make some creative people like me sad! I totally get that it would be frustrating living across from these trains, but they are one of my favorite places to shoot! I would be sad to see them go. See some shots on or near the trains below: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=458212352252&set=a.391613247252.169478.83515512252&type=3&theater https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=458211932252&set=a.391613247252.169478.83515512252&type=3&theater https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150581327187253&set=a.10150209331002253.315993.83515512252&type=3&theater https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=437932877252&set=a.437909397252.234579.83515512252&type=3&theater https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=437932832252&set=a.437909397252.234579.83515512252&type=3&theater https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=437910032252&set=a.437909397252.234579.83515512252&type=3&theater
Colin Lee July 12, 2012 at 07:26 PM
I'm glad to hear that local residents are finally being heard by our Federal representatives. This action is no doubt a result of the good work being done by community organizers for this issue in Lakeville.
Lakeville resident July 13, 2012 at 01:33 AM
Not a good enough reason to keep grafitti-filled, rusty old railcars next to our homes. I could think of much better places to take some great photos!
ABSG July 13, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Not a strong enough worded letter if you ask me. They need to be told to move the cars or else...stop beating around the bush! They aren't going to move crap because of this letter...it will go in the circular file!
Sarah O'Brien July 13, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Rail companies across the nation have worked together with local residents and cities to move rail cars when similar issues and complaints have been raised. Why can't Progressive Rail, who's head quarters are based in Lakeville, do the same?? The residents and City have been given the same "line" for over 3 years now...that the cars are being stored here due to the slow economy. In reality, Progress Rail has found a way to make money by lining the streets & every inch of rail they can in Lakeville with empty cars. If you look at the current cars being stored all through Lakeville, these are junk cars ready to be sold for scrap metal and will never be in use again due to their condition. This has nothing to do with our economy any more but has everything to do with one very selfish company storing "junk" throughout Lakeville. A great Public Relatoins move Progressive Rail would be to work with the City of Lakeville and MOVE THESE CARS!!
ABSG July 13, 2012 at 02:57 PM
I think maybe the best way to get something done besides lip service is for the Lakeville Mayor, Kline and Klobuchar to set up a meeting with the owners of Progressive Rail and hammer out some type of agreement. If they refuse to do so, then Kline/Klobuchar need to move to the next stage of changing the federal law.
MCV July 13, 2012 at 04:03 PM
It is really nice to see both Senator Klobuchar and Congressman Kline, who are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, comming together to work on this important local issue. Both of them walked in the Lakeville Pan o Prog parade on the 4th and then got together and wrote a letter together on the 5th. Maybe more of our politicians can take a lesson from both of them!
ABSG July 13, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Lakeville resident July 13, 2012 at 05:42 PM
ABSG/MCV...yes, the civil thing for Progressive Rail to do would be to hammer out some sort of agreement with the city. It would be interesting to see if Progressive Rail could work together with the city on this issue as the politicians have worked together on this letter. Past experience shows that Progressive Rail hasn't been forthcoming on this issue.
ABSG July 13, 2012 at 05:50 PM
I have a feeling if they got a call from John/Amy that they would listen - just based on their positions in the government. I'd be shocked (ok maybe not) if they hung the phone on them. And besides down the road it may be to their benefit when they want something in the future.
Lakeville resident July 13, 2012 at 06:15 PM
I'm pretty sure Klobuchar's and Kline's offices have contacted Progressive Rail in the past, but since there is no legislation on this issue there wasn't much that they could do.
dennis July 14, 2012 at 03:29 PM
I believe this letter comes at the problem from the wrong direction. My mother often said " you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar". Instead of using Federal Clout to come at them in a mean and heavy-handed manner, as if PGR was doing something wrong, which they are not, why not contact them with Federal influence and ask what could be done to help them build a better, more efficient yard and enable them to continue to be the viable and intergal part of our very important industrial park that they are. I am sure there are better places to have RR yard space available and perhaps Federal Funds available to build such a place. This would enhance their presence in the industrial park and increase their abilities to help their customers. These tracks just happen to be PGR's parking lot. So if they could have a better place to do so, it might benefit everyone. The cars that started the whole problem were there for a long time because (I believe) they were part of Boise-Cascade bankruptcy, however, since then cars come and go and certainly not all are "ready to be scrapped". Earlier this spring there were brand new cars waiting to be put into use...twice. I for one hope that some resolution can come to this issue for all parties but without so much negative emotions as I have read about in the past.
ABSG July 14, 2012 at 03:40 PM
I knew someone would mention the flies and honey...that's all nicey nice but sometimes those flies just don't want honey! I think the City of Lakeville has been MORE than patient and has used all the honey available!
Lakeville resident July 14, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Dennis, honey will not work with Dave Fellon and PGR. I, along with many other people, have letters dating back to early 2009 written to Dave Fellon & Lon Van Gemert of PGR, Sen. Klobuchar, Cong. Kline, Sen. Franken, Sen. Garofalo, Sen. Thompson, the City of Lakeville, the FRA, MPCA, MnDOT, DNR....just to name a few. PGR cannot afford to build themselves a rail yard and there are probably no federal funds available to do it for them. Your position sounds great and everything, but it's been tried. This has been going on for three years. It's time to get the railcars out of our neighborhoods, and apparently, we're going to need federal help to do it.
TJ R. July 23, 2012 at 12:07 PM
Alternative idea; Obtain permission from the rail company to allow local businesses to hang banner signs on the sides of train cars. As much as I dislike billboards, I'd prefer to see some sort of community benefit coming from this issue. Triple win - benefits local sign shop, benefits local business, and benefits residents until this issue is resolved. I do wish there was a way to convince the rail company to move the things further out of town. My kids attended preschool directly across from these cars and it was a bit of a deflator to see them there every day.
Lakeville resident July 23, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Can't do that. Progressive Rail already attempted to advertise on a flatbed railcar at Hwy 50 & Dodd for a landscape company. (see photo on our Facebook page at facebook.com/progressiverailmoveyourtrain) The city shut that down because they don't allow billboards. Furthermore, PGR doesn't own most of these railcars...PGR is earning money storing them for other companies (at our expense), so they can't put a bunch of signs up on them. And, do you really want to open that can of worms and give PGR another way to earn money by putting up a bunch of billboards on the railcars along Hwy 50? Dave Fellon is always looking for a new way to make a buck. It would be one long giant billboard forever. No thanks.
MJ July 23, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I hate to be devils advocate here but... those tracks have run through Lakeville for decades, long before the the houses were built, or current residences moved in. Now you may not like to look behind you to see rail cars just sitting there but tracks are tracks and the alternative is to have trains barreling through at 60+ mph blaring their horns too. The people complaining would not like that either. My point is, the tracks were already there, perhaps the residences should have considered this before they built or purchased their homes.
JM July 23, 2012 at 05:59 PM
MJ - I agree just because you buy a home and your backyard goes into a corn field today doesn't mean it will always be a corn field forever. Those tracks were running through Lakeville long before the homes were built. I remember not too long ago about people complaining about the gutter trash and problems the Brunswick Zone would bring in and now those same complainers go to the Zone with their families. I believe an answer has been given dating back to 2009 but people just don't like it - The American Association of Railroads said in a normal economy companies have about 30,000 cars in storage. Right now, that number is at 451,000. "Wherever they can park cars is where they're parking them right now," said Dave Fellon, president and owner of Progressive Rail. "These issues come across the nation; it isn't just progressive rail."
TJ R. July 23, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Other Alternative Ideas: 1) For the one major area that this impacts along Hwy 50 plant some relatively good size pine trees as a barrier. THe longer this goes on the taller the trees will get. 2) For the same stretch, put up a decent height fence (car window level) on that stretch. 3) Cover the cars in a duck-blind like material to offer some camoflauge. I realize there is a cost to all of these, but if the communicty and city is concerned about this my guess is that there are enough businesses and volunteers to help out with product/labor - especially for #1 and #2.. I will do my shift as a resident of the city. In the end we would be left with something more pleasant to look at until this runs its course. And if it is resolved in the next 2 months then we are still left with a better landscape with which to drive/walk/set up business next to.
Lakeville resident July 23, 2012 at 07:15 PM
TJ R. Great idea, but I suggested planting trees, etc along Hwy 50 long ago to PGR, Mary Liz Holberg, the City, etc. I would volunteer for my shift also. No one was interested, especially PGR. As for how long the tracks were here...Lakeville township was est. in 1858, long before the tracks, and the city doesn't want the railcars stored here either. PGR didn't lease the tracks until 1996. The 'we were here first' argument doesn't hold water. PGR only leases the tracks up to 35, so it's a dead end for them. There will not be thru freight traffic here any time soon. It would take millions of dollars to get these dilapidated tracks up to snuff. Bottom line: the homes are here, that's not changing. PGR needs to operate within the constraints of what exists here NOW, not what was here in 1910. JM: to use your logic...just because you built tracks in the cornfields of MN back in 1910, doesn't mean they will be cornfields forever. The residents did not buy homes next to a rail yard for broken down, rusty old, graffiti-filled junk. Progressive Rail: Move your junk to a more appropriate storage area.
TJ R. July 23, 2012 at 07:28 PM
So, my final question is - why are we even wasting public/private individual time with tossing around solutions and/or sending letters threatening other harsher penalites for the rail company if we aren't going to get serious (as a community) about acting on a solution that the city can approve and implenment without any outside decision makers. As for putting up a fence or trees, was even one post city council meeting action step taken? DId anyone from the city (or even a resident) approach a local business (Bachmans) to see if they would have the ability to donate 10-15 trees to get the ball rolling? Did the city send out a survey asking if anyone would donate money/laobr to help add some trees or a fence? WHere is the 'action' on the ideas and solutions that 'are' realistic and within the city's ability to act on alone? I get the whole building next to a cornfield analogy. But, if this issue is such a big deal that we need to get senator involvement then let's get some more ideas on the table and get it taken care of so we can move onto some other pressing issues in the city. If it means planting some trees along a short stretch of a road versus putting water down on freshly laid sod on the boulevards somewhere then let's look at the city budget and find the dollars to put towards a solution.
Lakeville resident July 23, 2012 at 08:53 PM
TJ R....agree with you on a lot of your valid points, but there are some problems. You would have to check with the City Administrator on all that was done to try and come to a solution with PGR, but PGR is not helpful because they don't have to be. Problems on Hwy 50 with planting trees: some areas between bike path and tracks are too narrow. PGR will not hesitate to cut down any trees that interfere with railroad operations. We also cannot plant trees on railroad property and PGR president said he would not be planting any trees. Fences: probably too expensive and again, they cannot be erected on railroad property. I suggested to the city and many other people to get the small trees that I believe are offered through the Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District in the spring...25 trees for about $35. I bought some myself for my own property for the same purpose, someday they will hopefully screen the blight from view. The problem is, this is the railroad. Unlike the airport...an analogy some people use...residents near the airport have protections: airlines are asked not to land late at night, homes are retrofitted with new windows and air conditioning systems, etc. We have no protections against the railroad. Unfortunately, we are probably going to need federal help here.
TJ R. July 23, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Great - thanks. I emailed the administrator. Appreciate the constructive dialog.
Lakeville resident July 23, 2012 at 10:49 PM
TJ R...Great!! Any ideas, any input, any help from anyone is greatly appreciated. Maybe there is something we haven't thought of. Also, to let you know, railroad right of way is generally 66 feet....33 feet on each side out from the centerline of the tracks. There must be some easement for the bike path on Hwy 50. Whenever they've moved railcars out and they're going to park new ones, they go through with a heavy brush cutter and level everything. Great for getting rid of weeds, but it takes down any vegetation screen there might be:(
TJ R. September 05, 2012 at 02:40 AM
Has there been any progress on this issue - I've noticed fewer of the rail cars along the tracks as of late? Perhaps the economy is pickingbup enough for the rail company to keep them moving....
Lakeville resident September 05, 2012 at 03:40 PM
My understanding is that the railcars that left the area are being used in the expanding frac sand industry that Progressive Rail is involved in. Otherwise no known progress yet as far as ending the residential storage.


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