Investing in N.D.

BNSF will be making record infrastructural investments in North Dakota, including in the Minot area, to improve rail transportation in the state.

In a letter to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, dated Tuesday, Carl Ice, BNSF president and chief executive officer, said, “We at BNSF are disappointed that we have not met our customers’ expectations in North Dakota and across the network. We know that many customers have been significantly impacted. We are working closely with them to ensure that they have a transparent view into when their service will be improved and predictability will be provided to the service that they receive.”

He said BNSF undertook a record capital program last year in its northern corridor including both capacity expansion and the maintenance required to ensure the safety and quality of the physical plant. He said those investments can slow down traffic. He also said the new capacity struggled to keep pace with the sizeable volume growth, including crude oil and grain movements, that BNSF experienced in the fourth quarter of 2013. There also was the extreme weather this winter that caused setbacks.

“In 2014 we plan to make our largest, single-year capital investment in our company’s history. Our investments of capital in expansion and maintenance in North Dakota 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,” Ice said.

Ice said BNSF’s maintenance investment grows as volumes grow. “In North Dakota this year, BNSF is spending $125 million to keep the existing tracks and facilities strong. Last year set a record for replacement and maintenance spending in the state $112 million.”

He said replacement capital expenditures in North Dakota and elsewhere have also been growing since 2009. “Our planned expansion and efficiency capital will be more than $900 million in 2014, of which $265 million will be spent in North Dakota. This spending is part of a three-year capital expansion plan for North Dakota. We plan to spend $396 million over three years on the Glasgow subdivision alone that will result in over 100 miles of double track and the construction of three critical sidings. This investment will be important to successfully facilitating the growing volumes of freight trains of all kinds, as well as the Empire Builder,” Ice explained.

“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,” said Heitkamp, in a news release issued Friday. “Whether it is for rail safety, improved agriculture shipments, or Amtrak delays, our businesses need to know their products will be transported efficiently by rail and North Dakotans must be able to have reliable passenger rail.”

To address issues specifically in North Dakota, BNSF notified Heitkamp that it will:

– Spend $162 million to double track the rail line from Minot to Glasgow, Mont., to help address major congestion issues for westbound traffic to destinations in the Pacific Northwest.

– Spend $26 million to add sidings to address congestion from Fargo to Grand Forks along the Hillsboro subdivision.

(A siding is a track that runs parallel to a main track. A train will move into a siding from the main track to allow other trains to pass it on the main line, according to Amy McBeth, a spokeswoman for BNSF in Minneapolis.)

– Spend $14 million to add sidings to address congestion from Bismarck to Glendive, Mont., along the Dickinson subdivision.

– Spend $13 million to add sidings to address congestion from Minot to Grand Forks along the Devils Lake subdivision.

– Spend $13 million to add sidings and an interchange track to address congestion from Canada into the United States through the Port of Pembina along the Noyes subdivision.

– Spend $11 million to invest in Centralized Traffic Control to improve service from Bismarck to Fargo along the Jamestown subdivision.

– Spend $8 million to add sidings and conduct signal work along the track from Fargo to Minot along the KO subdivision.