“We make the decisions for regional rail operations,” Schulte said.
Schulte will oversee everything. He has plenty to focus on in this newly appointed position and has a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish.
But one entity he has no power over is a popular rail line in the North Metro.
Said Schulte: “Anoka County has very little to do with North Star operations now.”
Despite making four stops in Anoka County, the rail authority has no say so in how the North Star is run.
“The state of Minnesota and Met Council runs the operations and funds the operations,” Schulte said. “Anoka County’s only involvement with North Star now is paying off our current bonds.”
Anoka County also will not be involved in the proposed Northern Lights Express train that would go from the Twin Cities to the Twin Ports.
“Because it doesn’t really touch Anoka County – it’s really not a part of Anoka County – we dropped out of that,” Schulte said. “We dropped out of that funding package and left it to the counties that are really a big part of that operation. It touches a little bit of Coon Rapids and Fridley as it moves through that area. But there’s really not a stop in the Anoka County area.”
Wants more railroad overpasses
Schulte’s main goal is to get the county to build more railroad overpasses – which would make things safer for cars, trucks, cyclists and peds so they are not crisscrossing train tracks.
“If we can build these grade-separated interchanges, it makes it that much safer for Anoka County residents to move around,” Schulte said. “If we can do that with our tax dollars, we feel that is a much better use of dollars for regional rail operations…By building an overpass there is no chance for a collision between a train and an automobile of any kind, or a pedestrian.”
Schulte believes that if you limit train crossings everyone benefits.
“People don’t always do the right thing, whether it’s intentional or not,” Schulte said. “They run a stop arm. Stop arms don’t always work. There’s sometimes a failed mechanical issue and sometimes there aren’t stop arms.”
Schulte thinks the cost is definitely worth it.
“That’s going to be my primary focus as I move forward with regional rail dollars,” Schulte said. “Put those dollars into overpasses,”
County ready to respond
Trains come and go through Anoka County on a daily basis carrying all kinds of cargo. If there is a worst-case scenario similar to the 2023 derailment in Ohio, the county is ready to spring into action.
“We have a plan for it and we’re protected,” Schulte said. “The public should rest easy that what happened in Ohio could happen here but we have a plan. I’m confident. I rest easy at night knowing that. We do table top discussions, table top exercises regularly, to make sure that we learn from every disaster across the country, so if it does happen here, God forbid, that we can respond quicker, better and more efficiently.”
Some spots the county has pinpointed for new overpasses are one in Andover and a couple in Coon Rapids and Ramsey.