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Billion-Dollar Railroad Companies Won’t Pay Paltry Amounts for Safety

Plus MN James Beard finalists, Sea Salt's new side project, and welcome to the Metrodome in today's Flyover news roundup.

Photo by Johannes Plenio via Unsplash

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of important, overlooked, and/or interesting Minnesota news stories.

Railroads Opt to Break New Laws

Corporations can be really shitty community members. We’re seeing that now with Uber and Lyft threatening to leave rather than paying a minimum wage in Minneapolis, and with freight railways BNSF and CPKC refusing to pay for the safety assessments and emergency response training signed into Minnesota law in 2023.

The railway companies argue that such measures are unnecessary, and say the data show that safety has been steadily improving since 2014. But not so fast! Minnesota Reformer's Christopher Ingraham has plotted the numbers and has analysis to share. While derailments steadily dropped from 1975 to 2010, the numbers over the past 10 years have been stagnant, not improving. And some years have been significantly worse. “The 18 Minnesota derailments in 2020 were the lowest on record,” he writes. “But by 2023 that number had risen to 31 — a 72% increase.” It’s also worth noting that from 2014-17 railways were required to pay for safety assessments similar to the one now in place.

Meanwhile, many rail workers strongly believe more safety measures are needed. In fact, their unions had planned to strike on the issue until December 2022, when the U.S. Senate, at the urging of President Joe Biden, vetoed a contract that would allow them to do so. When Viraluae spoke to rail workers last year, overall safety was still a major concern. “Every train that passes by, you’re like, ‘God, I hope if they derail, it’s not in a community,’" said Tom Steinbrenner, district vice general chairman of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees. 

With all this resistance to helping employees, communities, and EMTs, you might think that we’re talking big bucks here, right? According to Ingraham, BNSF would be on the hook for around $1.2 million annually, while CPKC would be asked to shell out $900,000. But we already know the railroad companies know how to pinch pennies; they’re adept at dodging workers’ compensation when employees are maimed on the job. The seven major North American railroad companies hauled in a combined $27 billion in net profits circa 2021, riches they showered on investors via hundreds of millions in stock buybacks and dividends. “I gotta say that they are maybe the worst case of corporate greed that I have seen,” Sen. Bernie Sanders observed in 2022.

MN's James Beard Award Finalists

The finalists in 2024's James Beard Awards, aka the Oscars of food, were announced this morning, and this year three Minnesota restaurants made the cut, all of them in Minneapolis. Take that, St. Paul! (Not really St. Paul, I love you.) Northeast’s Oro by Nixta, Gustavo and Kate Romero’s love letter to the oft-overlooked corn, is up for Best New Restaurant. (We're fans, too.) “Let me tell you, friends, Oro’s melt-in-your-mouth $7 lengua taco was an experience worth every penny,” reads our review from last year. “Incredibly tender with luscious fat, this taco was crowned with salsa made from chile arbol, adding a depth of smokiness, while bright, cured onion and cilantro kept it from being too rich.” 

Two Minneapolis dish makers are nominated for Best Chef: Midwest, Khâluna's Ann Ahmed and Hai Hai's Christina Nguyen. Both women were nominated in this category last year as well. Khâluna, which Em featured in her story on restaurants that also host retail shops (and felt was one of the best new restaurants of 2021), serves up Laotian dishes, gorgeous cocktails, and an impressive mocktail list, while Hai Hai’s Southeast Asian eats have been a hit in northeast Minneapolis since 2017. Minnesota's other semifinalists—Dani del Prado of Porzana, Marc Heu of Marc Heu Pâtisserie Paris, Karyn Tomlinson of Myriel, and Meteor Bar—did not make the cut.

Sea Salt Is Reopening Soon, With a Sammie Side Hustle

A perennial sign that spring has sprung? The victorious return of beer and fishy fare from Sea Salt at Minnehaha Falls Park in south Minneapolis. The popular waterfall-adjacent restaurant has an official date, folks, and that's April 19. But wait, there’s more: According to this scoop from Longfellow Whatever, sometime in May a new sandwich shop, The Sandwich Room at Sea Salt, will open inside the pavilion next door. “The menu is the brainchild of longtime Sea Salt manager and now co-owner Bill Blood, a sandwich zealot who's known to some as Sandwich Bill,” writes LW's Trevor Born. What a name! We love you, Sandwich Bill.

This Metrodome News Segment From 1982 Has It All

As someone who’s not from Minnesota, I can tell you guys have a lot of feelings about the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. So it was no surprise, to me at least, that a 1982 news segment on its opening day—exactly 42 years ago today!—would feature people with a mix of strong emotions. Don Cassidy, Twins promotion marketer, was in awe. “Every player I talked to is just in love with the building,” he said. “They think it’s the greatest field they’ve ever seen.” Stadium Commissioner Solveig Premack seems... a little disappointed. She spent the game roaming the halls (in a fur coat?) looking at everything with a critical eye. “Once people get used to it… I think it will be accepted,” she said, noting that she expected there to be growing pains. “They’re pretty sure they can get most Minnesotans here at least once,” concludes a skeptical-sounding Marcia Fluer with 5 Eyewitness News. “It’s bringing them back again that they’re worried about.” The Dome came down in 2014; the Twins's Home Opener at Target Field goes down tomorrow at 3:10 p.m. against the Cleveland Guardians.

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