Economy and Business
Wed June 20, 2012
Frac sand trains resurrect long-dormant Wisconsin rail lines
Western Wisconsin’s frac sand boom is leading to a resurrection of abandoned rail lines, but there are safety concerns for car drivers not used to active train crossings.
There are more than 60 frac sand mining and processing operations in Wisconsin, moving hundreds of tons of sand each day. That’s led to a reinvestment in long dormant rail lines in the western part of the state. Jeff Plale is Wisconsin’s Commissioner of Rail. He says there are two lines in particular that are being revamped: one runs from Prentice eastward to Barron, the other runs from Almena to Barron. “The railroads are expending enormous amounts of capital to rehab these lines, anywhere from $1 million to $2 million per mile.”
But he says bringing rail lines that have been abandoned for decades back to life comes with some risk: “There’s a whole generation of drivers out there who have never seen a train -- I’m thinking of the line from Ladysmith west. They haven’t seen a train on that line in 20 years, maybe more, and when you have 45 miles of track and roughly 80 crossings you now have 80 potential crash sites times how ever many cars a day go over those.”
Gary Hahn is chief deputy with the Rusk County Sheriff’s Department. He says the state has offered some help in educating drivers about safely crossing train tracks. Also, Hahn says his department will be watching how drivers interact with trains: “If they don’t yield they could be cited, but more importantly they’re likely going to be in a crash and that’s a whole lot worse than a citation.”
Some work has begun on the rail line rehab projects but company officials didn't immediately return calls asking when they would be completed.