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Kyle Potter, The Forum, Published March 07 2014

BNSF to spend $250 million expanding ND rail network

FARGO – After a year marked by delays in passenger service and agricultural shipments, BNSF Railway says it plans to spend almost $250 million to expand rail traffic on its network in North Dakota.

In a letter to U.S. Sen Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat who, among others, pressed the company to address delays, BNSF CEO Carl Ice said their investment will be a critical part of efficiently, and safely, facilitating the growth from the state, in particular, crude and agriculture, and growth elsewhere on the network.”

The company plans to spend $162 million to double track their rail line between Minot and Glasgow, Mont., in order to ease snarled westbound traffic. BNSF also will use $11 million for additional train traffic control monitoring between Fargo and Bismarck, and use $74 million to add sidings across its North Dakota Network. Sidings branch off from the railroad’s main track, providing a waiting spot for a train as another passes.

Crude-by-rail traffic has increased dramatically in the past several years as the Bakken has boomed – from less than 100,000 barrels daily in 2010 to almost 800,000 barrels per day late last year, according to industry estimates. Agricultural shipments, too, have increased dramatically, BNSF says.

“With the great increase in rail transportation in North Dakota, BNSF needs to make significant investments so the line can meet the many needs of our state,” Heitkamp said in a news release.

Together with a brutal winter and ongoing maintenance, the increased traffic has created headaches for shippers and passenger railroad services like Amtrak.

Delays have steadily worsened on Amtrak’s Empire Builder line, which cuts through North Dakota to connect Chicago with the West Coast. As of February, an eastbound train hadn’t arrived on time since April 29, 2013, according to company records. Delays frequently stretch past the three- and four-hour mark.

BNSF previously announced it will spend about $125 million on track maintenance in North Dakota this year, a record high.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502