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Twin Cities Suburb Not Happy with Stored Rail Cars Attracting Local Children

(Lakeville, Minnesota – August 30, 2013)

 As residents of a St. Paul, MN neighborhood reel in the aftermath of the tragic injuries resultant from a local nine-year-old’s tragic encounter with a train while playing near his home last week, another Twin Cities suburb, where trains and standing rail cars are all too familiar, is recruiting help from high places, hoping to prevent a repeat of the tragedy in their community.

Lakeville, MN, home to not only short line railroad conglomerate Progressive Rail, Inc., but also to a large number of adventurous kids and concerned parents, has reached out both to the news media as well as elected officials as they battle for safer conditions in an area used for short and long-term storage of rail cars that seem to serve as an “attractive nuisance” for local youngsters.

On Thursday, August 15, Marshawn Farr-Robinson, 9, of the St. Paul neighborhood known as North End, lost both of his feet when he tried to climb aboard a slow moving Canadian Pacific freight train on tracks owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe in an area known to be frequented by children and adults both, and which had questionable-quality protection or warning from the hazards obvious to the railroads but not necessarily to elementary school children.

Last Thursday, local MSP TV station KSTP-TV, Channel 5, Reporter Beth McDonough and a news crew made a visit to Lakeville, on the far south side of the Twin Cities area, to study the situation and hear the nature of the community’s concern.

Lakeville community activist Rick Gonzales lives within sight of what he calls “an eyesore” and “dangerous”: stored rail cars held on tracks that run through the city’s neighborhoods and serve as a temptation for unsupervised or adventurous children. “Rail cars are heavy, metal, sharp objects, (and) it’s just a matter of time before an accident happens – and it’s not going to be pretty, “predicts Gonzales.

Lakeville Police officials are aware of and have responded to complaints of children seen playing on or near the stored railroad cars 13 times through the summer months of June, July and August, according to LPD Chief Tom Von Hof, who acknowledged the potential of the danger of children being trapped inside or falling from the tops of the rail cars, but also that city authorities are stymied in getting assistance from Progressive, which stores as many as 300 cars in the allegedly active rail yard. As is the standard operating procedure of railroad companies, Progressive claims federal exemption from local ordinance or regulation and therefore has no intention of changing.

Lakeville residents – at least 150 of them, altogether, who have suffered a five percent decline in their property values, a drop attributable by assessors as the simple fact that the properties are in a “blighted” area simply because of their proximity to the railroad yards.

But another entity to which Lakeville residents have appealed, federal elected officials, have threatened to come to the residents’ aid if local efforts continue to be ignored. According to the office of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), “These empty rail cars need to be moved. They are compromising public safety, negatively affecting home values and burdening businesses and residents in Lakeville. I have urged the railroad to work cooperatively with the residents of Lakeville and will continue to work to find solutions to resolve the issue.”

Meanwhile, even though the beginning of the new school year may otherwise occupy children’s idle time for several hours daily, the temptation remains. As one youth, identified as Aidan Gott, told KSTP in summing up the kids’ argument, “I’m bored, (and) it gives you something to do in the summer.”

Unfortunately, the situation is neither productive, educational, nor safe. And as Gonzales warned earlier, “it’s just a matter of time before an accident happens…”