Pedestrian train tunnels to increase safety at Winona State University

Underground train tunnels expected to be complete this year

Winona State University is in the process of making its campus safer by installing underground pedestrian train tunnels.

A Winona State University student died early Sunday morning after being hit by a train.

Such incidents prompted Winona State University officials to talk about creating tunnels underneath the tracks many years ago, and now, almost a decade later, they are close to being finished.

A Canadian Pacific railway bisects Winona State’s campus, forcing a lot of students to walk over the train tracks.

One Winona State student said she has seen some risky behavior when it comes to the tracks and she thinks the tunnels will make a huge difference.

Allison Ramey will graduate in May from Winona State.

“(My) dream job would be working in an agency in Chicago,” said Ramey.

During her time at Winona State, she has lived on or around campus, and even though she has enjoyed her time at school, there is one thing she won’t miss – the trains.

“If you live in Winona, you know you will get caught by the train whenever you are driving, like 10 times,” said Ramey.

Ramey said she didn’t have to deal with them while walking to class every day, but she knows plenty of people who did, and they didn’t always do it safely.

“I have seen people cross them (the tracks) when the train is coming,” said Ramey.

She has witnessed similar behavior when a train is stopped.

“I have seen people a lot go through the little opening to get past to get to class or wherever they need to be, which is incredibly unsafe,” said Ramey.

In an effort to give students a better option, the university decided to install two tunnels underneath the train tracks at Johnson Street and Winona Street.

“One is between our two residence halls and another one is adjacent to our stadium,” said Scott Ellinghuysen, vice president of finance and administration at Winona State.

The project has been in the works for about eight years, but the university has run into many complications along the way.

“(There are) different funding sources (involved), different planning and different entities involved like Canadian Pacific Rail, the federal government, state government, Minnesota Department of Transportation, local and the university,” said Ellinghuysen.

All those issues have been cleared up and officials are hoping to have the tunnels completed this year.

“The actual tunnels were installed this last summer, and this summer we have a contract in place to do the ramps and the approaches that will connect the tunnels and make them accessible,” said Ellinghuysen.

It’s been a long time coming, but Ellinghuysen said it’s important.

“I think any time you have a railroad that bisects your campus, I think you just have to try and provide safer crossings for students, faculty and staff,” said Ellinghuysen.

And if it helps student get to class on time, Ramey said students will take advantage of the new tunnels.

“If people can dodge the train without having to walk through the train, I think they will use it,” said Ramey.

The total cost for the two pedestrian tunnels is about $8 million.