Berlin Township battles railroad to keep road open
In what might be described as a David vs. Goliath battle, a township in Steele County is taking on the second-largest railroad in the country.
For years, Union Pacific has had a route through the county, including about a mile of what’s called sidetrack, which allows two trains to either meet from opposite directions or pass while going the same direction.
It currently runs from the south end of Ellendale to about a mile north, into Berlin Township.
“They’ve had it for years,” said Steve Engel, deputy clerk and treasurer of Ellendale, “but now they want to extend it, add about three miles of sidetrack going north.”
The current sidetrack crosses two main arteries in Ellendale, and those must remain open, Engel said.
The goal for Union Pacific is to run longer trains, which would require more sidetrack to prevent blocking Minnesota Highway 30 or Eighth Avenue in town.
Extending it farther north into Berlin Township would block 133rd Street, so the railroad wants to close the road entirely.
The road isn’t much – just a one-mile east-west stretch that runs between two paved north-south roads – but it’s critical for the traffic that uses it.
“I don’t think (the railroad officials) realize how important that road is for our farmers,” Engel said.
Or rather, they didn’t know, until last week’s meeting between township officials and railroad representatives.
“Hopefully, they realized that it’s a big safety factor for everyone, including Ellendale,” Engel said. “There are a lot of big farms out there, and closing that road means they have to spend more time on (busier) roads with their semis, their big equipment, chemicals…”
If it closed, the route to get anywhere would take drivers through the city of Ellendale, which is the next closest east-west route.
“The guy who’s calling the shots for the railroad” was provided with pages of documentation about safety and road use at last week’s meeting; after that, a site meeting was held. State Rep. Peggy Bennett was there, as was State Sen. Gene Dornink.
“It was good to see some support like that,” Engel said. The city doesn’t have any say in the issue, he emphasized, because 133rd Street is a township road, “but we’re supporting the township.”
Should the road remain open after the sidetrack extension, the township would be responsible for the maintenance of the crossing.
It’s a negotiation for now, but ultimately, Union Pacific has the final say.
Engel said a decision date has not been set.