Safety Concerns Surround Empty Rail Cars in Lakeville

Updated: 08/30/2013 10:56 PM By: Beth McDonough

A 9-year-old St. Paul boy is recovering at home after a train ran over him, severing his feet last month.

Now, parents in Lakeville are raising safety concerns too.

That's because there's a train track running right through town.

Rick Gonzales showed KSTP what he sees from his home, every single day, "it's an eyesore and it's dangerous."

He's referring to unused rail cars parked on a nearby train track.  The rail line winds through miles of neighborhoods, even in residential backyards, "rail cars are heavy metal sharp objects, it's just a matter of time before an accident happens and it's not going to be pretty."

Over the summer, Lakeville police have received 13 complaints of kids trespassing or playing on and near the rail cars.  Chief Tom Von Hof says, "a lot of them have ports on top of them, cars that are 8 feet deep with no ladders on the inside, if someone fell in the cars or were climbing across the top, it could be very dangerous."

Despite the risk and the no trespassing signs, Aidan Gott tells KSTP he's explored them in the past, "I'm bored, it gives you something to do in the summer."

Progressive Rail leases the tracks and rents them out as storage space to other railroad companies.  On any given day, there are 300 empty cars sitting on the tracks.

Yet, city leaders say their hands are tied.  They can't force Progressive to move the cars since the railroad is federally regulated, "because there is a beginning and an ending no matter what the condition of the tracks, it is considered an active rail yard," according to Lakeville City Administrator Steven Mielke.

Gonzales helped organize an anti-rail car movement among his neighbors.  150 of them who've watched their land values drop by 5 percent, simply because they live next to the rail line, "it's not a good thing when the neighborhood is considered by the assessor as a blight, a dangerous blight at that."

Meanwhile, Sen. Amy Klobuchar released this statement:

“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 I will continue to work to find solutions to resolve the issue.”