March 1, 2011 at 11:48 am in WDAZ
Amtrak says that once the lake reaches 1453 feet, there’s a strong possibility services would be discontinued and with the current lake level forecast, that elevation will be surpassed. Continue Reading
Tags: Amtrak, ashley mcmillan, buses, Devils Lake, devils lake amtrak, Flood, new rockford, Reporter Stories, trains, updates 2 Comments »
It’s time for North Dakota residents to become aware of the true problems behind the potential closure of this rail line. It is an essential piece of the rail system in North Dakota and its closure has the potential to cause a severe impact on transportation in the region. To accurately comprehend the situation, though, it is necessary to understand the layout of ALL of the rail lines involved in this situation.
BNSF’s main route from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest (referred to herein as the “Surrey Line” between Fargo and Surrey) enters North Dakota at the Minnesota border in Fargo/Moorhead, cuts northwesterly via New Rockford to Surrey, then runs westward to the Montana border via Minot and Williston. This line sees heavy amounts of freight traffic each day, more than enough to be considered a bottleneck.
At Fargo, a secondary main line (“Hillsboro Line”) leaves the Surrey Line and runs northward to the west side of Grand Forks, where it meets another secondary line (“Devils Lake Line”) running from the Minnesota border at Grand Forks westward via Devils Lake and Rugby to a connection with the Surrey Line at Surrey. These secondary lines are not part of BNSF’s primary freight route as they are longer and slower than the direct route via New Rockford. However, Amtrak continues to use these lines in order to serve Rugby, Devils Lake, and Grand Forks, and the lines are also used by BNSF freight trains in order to provide service to communities in the immediate area and eastward into Minnesota. In addition, the lines have previously been used as alternate freight routes for through traffic to alleviate the bottleneck of the Surrey Line.
Numerous times recently, the public has been made aware, through articles such as this one, that due to rising water in between Devils Lake and Churchs Ferry, the rail line there is threatened. As a result, Amtrak service to Grand Forks, Devils Lake, and Rugby is in jeopardy.
This is only a fraction of the story.
Anyone who resides near or spends time near the Devils Lake line west of Grand Forks should have noticed the scarcity of freight trains passing by. That’s because freight service between Churchs Ferry and Devils Lake has already been terminated, with traffic instead being deliberately rerouted away (see below). Only trains serving local communities on the line will currently be seen. Amtrak plans on running via Grand Forks, Devils Lake, and Rugby as long as the track is suitable to run on, as mentioned in this article. But once the lake rises high enough to render the track unusable, the only alternative will be to run the train over the Surrey Line via New Rockford. This will result in the loss of passenger service to/from the towns listed above.
On the other hand, it is not only Amtrak service that will suffer as a result of the closure of the Devils Lake line. The line through Devils Lake is an essential freight route for agricultural shipments in northern North Dakota and Minnesota. It is easiest to understand this by analyzing grain elevators in the region that ship unit/shuttle trains of 110 cars or more at one time.
The portion of the line west of Devils Lake directly serves four shuttle elevators, Rugby and Niles (west of Churchs Ferry) directly on the line, with Bottineau and Bisbee served by stub-ended branch lines off of the mainline at Rugby and Churchs Ferry, respectively. These elevators commonly ship grain bound for Superior, WI. Traditionally, once loaded, these trains will run straight eastward over the line to Devils Lake then on to Superior via Grand Forks. However, to detour around the Churchs Ferry-Devils Lake portion of the line, these trains instead run westward to the Surrey Line at Surrey, then southeast to Fargo and on to Superior via Staples, MN. This in itself is an unnecessary waste of mileage, with higher costs due to extra fuel and crews to operate the trains.
However, the situation is far worse east of Devils Lake. Here, two shuttle elevators are directly served by the line, one on the line at Arvilla, with another at Mayville served via a stub-ended branch line from Larimore. Eleven other elevators in the region are indirectly served by the line. These include Alton, ND (south of Hillsboro), Thompson, ND, Grand Forks, Milton, ND, Drayton, ND, Crystal, ND, Crookston, Warren, MN, Argyle, MN, Lilyfield, MB, and Erskine, MN. These elevators frequently ship grain bound for the Pacific Northwest. Traditionally, their trains will run straight westward from Grand Forks via Devils Lake to the Surrey Line at Minot. Instead, with the deliberate rerouting of these movements, these shipments travel a much longer distance to reach Minot.
Each shipment will normally travel 196 miles via the direct route from Grand Forks to Surrey. With the line closure, they instead run approximately 300 miles by travelling south from Grand Forks to Fargo and then northwest via New Rockford to Surrey, requiring two sets of crew and taking additional time to travel the distance (in addition to possible layover time between crews at Fargo, which can total many additional hours). This is over 100 miles and excessive time wasted each and every time one of these elevators issues a train to travel to the Pacific Northwest.
This introduces significant costs. To start, because of the longer distances, cycle time for freight cars is notably longer. Plus, the additional crews necessary to move the shipments can result in crew shortages, increasing cycle time even further. Furthermore, placing passenger operations on the already overused Surrey Line will cause additional delays, needlessly hindering North Dakota and Minnesota farmers from receiving and exporting shipments from their facilities in an adequate amount of time.
One could argue that investments could be made to make improvements to the Surrey Line in the future to allow for better handling of the increased traffic. But this then leads to the question of whether the improvements would be less expensive than just rebuilding the line through Devils Lake in the first place and recognizing the benefits that it brings.
In conclusion, it is very apparent that retaining rail service on the rail line through Devils Lake is the optimal conclusion for all persons involved. It’s time for everyone to step up and push for the retaining of this essential piece of the North Dakota rail system.
Like or Dislike: 4 1
Yet another argument for the rebuilding of the line. Lakota is 25 miles east of Devils Lake. As with all the other elevators mentioned above, without the Devils Lake route, all trains would have to detour via Fargo. Do we really want that?
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