1880s railroad roundhouse is under the microscope again

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The Shoreham Yards roundhouse might not be in such good shape, lately.

The roundhouse is a relic of bygone days of the railroad, when mechanics turned locomotives around in long buildings that housed a “turnaround” track. Recently, CP Rail officials told the City of Minneapolis that the old building might have some problems.

“Our employees were concerned about the structure, which dates back to the 1880s,” said CP Rail communications director Laura Baenen. “We decided to go ahead and have structural engineers take a closer look at it.”

They’re expecting a “multi-phased report,” she added, which will include “what’s going on with it, not what needs to be done to it. Then there will have to be another report, and after that, another study to provide some options.”

John Harrington, senior project coordinator at Minneapolis’ Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED), said the city and many Northeast neighbors are concerned about the roundhouse’s fate.

“The neighborhood is concerned that it be preserved, but the railroad has been using the roundhouse for storage and has not been making a continuing investment in its maintenance,” he said. “The building has been deteriorating.

“I have to point out, though, that it’s not the city’s property, and it’s not the city’s building,” he added. “The whole question of structure came up when there was a tour in January with staff from the city, staff from the railroad and representatives from an engineering firm.

“They did a walk-through of some parts of the building. The roof is not in perfect condition. There is a railroad track that runs close to the roundhouse. The railroad is not using it, because there is concern that vibrations from the track might cause building damage. However, they have indicated that they can’t keep that track out of service forever,” Harrington said.

Another thing that might affect the roundhouse’s condition is a plan to drill vapor extraction wells through its floor, as part of CP Rail’s contamination clean up efforts. “They plan to drill through the concrete floor so there will be minimal vibration. There is a certain amount of sensitivity [on the railroad’s part] toward not making the situation worse,” Harrington said.

On Feb. 17, Minneapolis CPED deputy director Charles Lutz wrote Minnesota Pollution Control Agency hydrogeologist Rick Jolley a letter, pointing out that the Shoreham Yards Roundhouse is “an individually designated landmark, designated by the City of Minneapolis. Additionally, the State Historic Preservation Office has determined that the yards and roundhouse are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the Nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.”

Lutz’s letter was the city’s response to Canadian Pacific Railroad’s action plan for pollution cleanup at Shoreham Yards.

Lutz wrote that proposed changes to the roundhouse to accommodate pipes and wells will need to be approved by the Heritage Preservation Commission. The city wants more documentation, he added, to determine if the proposed work would adversely affect the structural condition and the historic integrity of the building.

The roundhouse “is the embodiment of the legacy that the Soo Line Railroad played in the development of Minneapolis, the entire state of Minnesota and the nation,” Lutz wrote. “As one of only approximately 150 landmarks designated by the City of Minneapolis, the roundhouse is an irreplaceable link to the history of the city and is an important historical icon of Northeast Minneapolis.”

Harrington said the roundhouse is not currently listed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places. The structural engineers’ report, he added, is due back “within a week or two.”

Baenen said that she knows that many Northeast residents are interested in the future of the roundhouse. However, she said, she’s had some calls from people who want to tour the rail yard to see it, and that can’t be allowed.

“We don’t give tours of an active rail yard. Although the uses have changed there, trains run around the clock and there is a large intermodal facility there now. If people want to see a roundhouse, I’d suggest that they go see the historic Jackson Street roundhouse in St. Paul, at the Minnesota Transportation Museum. I think people have the impression that the Shoreham Yards roundhouse is the only one of its kind, but that’s not true.”

Baenen can be reached at 612-851-5659, or by email at laura_baenen@cpr.ca. Lutz’s number is 612-673-5095; Harrington’s number is 612-673-5018. The Shoreham Area Advisory Committee, which meets monthly and was established to keep residents informed about issues affecting Shoreham Yards, can be reached by email at saac-mpls@earthlink.net.

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