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BNSF pledges to improve service, end Amtrak detour

BNSF Railway promised Tuesday to provide more locomotives and workers in the next few weeks to break the logjam of rail shipments that has dismayed North Dakota farmers and forced the detour of passenger trains through the state.

In a meeting with North Dakota’s congressional delegation and agricultural leaders in Washington, BNSF Executive Director Matt Rose said the railroad would invest $5 billion in new resources this year, including $600 million in North Dakota.

He also agreed to end the detour of westbound Amtrak passenger trains by Feb. 28. The detours meant the train has not stopped in Grand Forks, Devils Lake or Rugby the past few weeks and passengers have been bused there instead.

BNSF’s promised investments would mean:

  • 5,000 new maintenance workers, including 250 in North Dakota.
  • 500 new locomotives as well as another 125 temporary locomotives to be dispatched to North Dakota within the next two weeks.
  • 5,000 new rail cars.

The railroad said it will check on suitable cars for shipments by the American Crystal Sugar Co., which has plants in Grand Forks and the northern and central Red River Valley. The Moorhead-based co-op estimates that only half of the cars it usually has are positioned at customer locations.

Past due orders will be posted on BNSF’s website for agricultural shippers to improve communication between growers and their customers.

North Dakota growers have expressed concern that they aren’t getting timely service to ship their products, the delegation said. Under normal conditions, rail cars arrive to pick up grain within three to four days of a prearranged schedule. Currently, they are being delayed up to three weeks. When delays are longer than the prearranged schedule, the end user imposes a fine, which is absorbed by growers.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who hosted the meeting, said BNSF plans to build about 66 miles of new track in North Dakota. 

“Their long-term plan is a good one,” the senator said after the meeting. “They’ve seen such growth that they haven’t been able to keep up. The challenge is getting caught up in the near term.”

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.