Empire Builder Route Turns Into One-way Street

The woes of the Empire Builder have continued, this time resulting in passengers having to take bus to and from the North Dakota stations of Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby. The busing will continue through Sunday.

Passengers in those communities are being bused to meet the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder in Minot.

“The bus will represent Amtrak,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. Amtrak said the buses will be operated by either Triangle Coach Service or Lucky 7 Limo.

Only passengers traveling westbound on the Empire Builder are affected.

The busing was prompted by a decision by BNSF to shift much of its North Dakota traffic to an easterly direction on the route via the affected communities.

Westbound trains are taking the New Rockford line, which runs diagonally between Fargo and Minot, bypassing Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby.

“BNSF service is being impacted by extreme cold and winter weather conditions across the Midwest,” said BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth. “The extreme cold and snow are presenting significant operating challenges for our operations. To recover, we are operating our westbound trains on our route through New Rockford and eastbound traffic through our Devils Lake route. We will continue working with Amtrak as our network recovers.”

She said weather is a short-term factor. However, she did not estimate when the situation might return to normal.

Crude oil shipments from western North Dakota are only one part of the heavier volume, McBeth said.

“The traffic volume increase leader on our railroad in 2013 in terms of new units of traffic was domestic intermodal traffic, not crude oil. Industrial products and automotive traffic were also very robust and a late compressed harvest created a late grain surge. Crude oil makes up about 4 percent of the overall volume hauled by our railroad.”McBeth said

BNSF absorbed 50 percent of all the volume increases in the rail industry last year while also setting a single-year record for capital investment to improve and expand capacity.

“We invested well over $200 million last year in North Dakota alone and plan to make similar aggressive investments this year, that will benefit all traffic in the state,” she said.

BNSF and Amtrak officials discussed the track situation about two weeks ago, according to Magliari, who added that BNSF officials have indicated the track rerouting might continue, at least part of the time, for several weeks or months.

“This is not a development we are happy about, and we are working with BNSF to improve the situation,” he said.

The news came just three days after Devils Lake officials learned the city will lose its only commercial passenger air service at the end of the week.

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