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BNSF, CPKC say they won’t pay new Minnesota safety fee

ST. PAUL, Minn. — BNSF Railway and CPKC, the two largest railroads in Minnesota, do not plan to make payments of approximately $1 million to the state required by a law passed last year, saying the state legislation is “pre-empted by federal law.”

KSTP-TV reports the two railroads notified the Minnesota Department of Public Safety of the decision in letters sent last month.

The fees were established by the final version of a bill introduced the day after a derailment and fire in Raymond, Minn. [see “Minnesota legislators consider rail safety legislation,” Trains News Wire, April 1, 2023]. It requires the state to assess fees, based on route-miles in the state, to all railroads to pay for six rail safety inspector positions. It also requires railroads to offer safety training to fire departments and local emergency management organizations and sets a 15-minute limit for railroads to notify first responders of incidents involving hazardous materials, among other provisions. As part of a broader transportation finance and policy bill, it passed the state’s House 69-58, the Senate 34-32, and was signed by Gov. Tim Walz last May.

State Sen. Scott Dibble (Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, Minneapolis) told the station the railroads’ decision was “like a bolt out of the blue and a complete shock.” The railroads, asked to comment, referred the station to the Minnesota Regional Railroads Association, which KSTP says responded with a lengthy statement that noted railroads already train first responders, that rail incidents in the state are down 46%, and that the fee is unfair because the state does not collect similar assessments from other modes of transportation handling hazardous materials.

Dibble dismissed the claim that the legislation is illegal, saying “the railroads are always resisting any efforts we make toward public safety improvements … by citing federal preemption. They’re almost always wrong, and I’m sure they’re wrong in this case, as well.” He said the state may have to file a lawsuit if the railroads refuse to pay.