Rail relief in sight?

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Rail car shortages and delays have cost North Dakota ag producers over a half billion dollars this past year according to some estimates. Many blame the booming oil industry in western North Dakota for the deteriorating service; an industry that demands 1,200 cars a day to move crude oil to refineries all over the U.S., thus putting a strain on track availability, equipment, and labor.

For the most part, the potato industry hasn't been greatly affected in the region, but the impact has been felt by many or our growers who also raise grains and sugarbeets. Crystal Sugar and grain elevators in the region have faced long delays, sometimes over a month to move product.

BNSF Railway, the dominant railroad in North Dakota has responded after numerous complaints and pleas from growers, shippers and elected government officials at every level.

In a statement released May 1, BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) announced a plan to invest approximately $1 billion to improve and expand rail capacity in states along its Northern Corridor which spans the northern U.S. between the Pacific Northwest and Chicago. Forty percent of the $1 billion is dedicated to North Dakota alone, where delayed rail shipments have been the worst.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring applauded BNSF for their investment in North Dakota's infrastructure to aid in alleviating shipping backlogs.

"This announcement will certainly help, but we need to remain focused on helping farmers get their product to market in a reasonable time frame," Goehring said. "BNSF is the largest transporter of grain in the U.S. and this will make a significant impact."

Goehring said this is an important step forward, but there is more to be done to deal with the problems that the agriculture industry is experiencing with extreme delays.

Some of the projects that will help expand capacity and improve traffic flow for all freight and passenger trains are already underway according to Carl Ice, president and chief executive officer of BNSF Railway. "Following our record capital investment in 2013 of $4 billion, we are making the most significant capital investment in our history of approximately $5 billion this year. Our capital investments along the Northern Corridor are critical to expanding our capacity to support the region's rapidly growing economy, improving our ability to meet our customers' expectations and ensuring our railroad remains the safest mode of ground transportation for freight."

BNSF in its May 1 press release outlined the projects in each of the states in the Northern Corridor. The following are the projects slated for North Dakota and Minnesota:

North Dakota - BNSF plans to invest approximately $400 million in North Dakota to expand rail

capacity, replace and maintain the network infrastructure, and continue the implementation of

Positive Train Control technology.

Expansion projects in North Dakota include:

  • Completing construction of a second mainline track, referred to as double track,between Minot, N.D. and Glasgow, Mont. to expand capacity for all traffic moving on this route in the Northern Corridor.
  • Constructing new sidings, tracks adjacent to the mainline track, to expand capacity by enabling more trains to meet and pass one another on the predominately single track routes between Fargo and Grand Forks, Fargo and Minot, Bismarck, and Glendive, Montana and Minot, and Grand Forks.
  • Upgrading to a Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) signal system to improve train movements between Bismarck and Fargo.

Maintenance projects in North Dakota include:

  • Surfacing and undercutting of more than 930 miles of track.
  • Replacing about 110 miles of rail.
  • Replacing more than 330,000 ties.

Minnesota - BNSF plans to invest approximately $120 million in Minnesota to expand rail capacity, replace and maintain the network, and continue the implementation of PTC technology.

Expansion projects in Minnesota include:

  • Parking expansions at the St. Paul Intermodal Facility.
  • Adding track extensions in Gunn.
  • Construction of a new siding and new interchange tracks close to the Canadian border near St. Vincent.

Maintenance projects in Minnesota include:

  • Surfacing and undercutting of more than 600 miles of track.
  • Replacing about 72 miles of rail.
  • Replacing more than 340,000 ties.

BNSF plans to spend approximately $1.6 billion on locomotive, freight car and other equipment acquisitions, which will be put into service all across its network. Since the year 2000, BNSF has invested $42 billion to improve and expand its freight rail network.

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