Empire Builder and BNSF Track Upgrades in North Dakota

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by cav1865, Nov 10, 2014.

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  1. Nov 10, 2014 #1

    cav1865

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    cav1865

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    Burlington-Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) recently announced it completed a $400 million dollar track upgrade in North Dakota. Sidings, double-tracks, and track improvements between Minot and Williston, and between Devils Lake and Grand Forks. Sidings are designed to allow more trains to pass easier and track upgrades east of Devils Lake may allow increased train speeds along the traditionally slow-ordered line. Line near Devils Lake, ND was always very rough: the roughest stretch of line the Empire Builder traveled. Will be interesting to see if Empire Builder arrival times improve.
     
  2. Nov 10, 2014 #2

    afigg

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    afigg

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    They finished the work for the year just in time for the "bomb cyclone" to drop temperatures and bring winter weather over the northern plains and the Midwest. Polar Vortex not good enough now? Too last winter? OK, now its the Bomb Cyclone! :rolleyes: (Sounds like a Syfy Z-budget movie)

    CNN on the winter blast with the Bomb Cyclone reference: Winter jumps out early with heavy snow, bitter cold.

    It could be a rough week for the Empire Builder.

    As for the completion of the track work for the year, should link to a MT news article: BNSF finishes $400 million in upgrades in N.D. Excerpts:

     
  3. Nov 10, 2014 #3

    gmushial

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    I can't imagine the extra sidings and double track not helping EB and its OTP problems... though wonder just how much it'll actually help... but one can always hope for the best. Though a question comes up out of this: if it costs x dollars a mile to lay down virgin track, ie, obtain the ROW, prep it and actually get trackage in place - what does it cost if one already has a single line in place to double it (relatively and roughly)? Or does that depend very much on how much of a favor they did themselves in the past, ie, foreseeing the possible need to double track, and leaving everything in place and ready to simply do so; or the other extreme where they couldn't imagine having to double track in the future and did nothing to prepare for it? Just seems like $400m is a lot of money for 55 miles of double track and some sidings (especially out on the plains)... or are those nominal size number?
     
  4. Nov 10, 2014 #4

    Paulus

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    That sounds about right, possibly on the low end.
     
  5. Nov 11, 2014 #5

    OlympianHiawatha

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    OlympianHiawatha

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    The Empire Builder just cannot win for losing-as soon as there is potential relief from the BNSF the first Arctic Mass Ejection of what will likely be the hardest Winter in American history arrives! Let us hope the BNSF is well versed in Snow Removal.
     
  6. Nov 11, 2014 #6

    montana mike

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    Sorry to disagree with the press release from BNSF, but my local BNSF guys say that all of the work in the article was NOT completed before the end of the season, as I saw myself last week. They said about 85% of this year's planned work was done, plus, there was still some additional switching work to do on what was completed, which they hope to have finished by Turkey Day. The new trackage certainly will be a plus, but looking at the performance of the EB's lately, it isn't helping much either. I was almost 4 hours late into CHI and just under 9 hours late arriving in WFH. If you look at BNSF's weekly customer report the dwell time increased slightly and speed actually went down a little last week while the number of cars in their system continued to increase. An awful lot of freight is being moved over the Hi-Line these days. Way more than it was ever designed to handle efficiently.

    PS--55 miles sounds like a lot until you consider there are over 1000 miles of single track on the Hi-Line!!
     
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  7. Nov 11, 2014 #7

    neroden

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    It depends very much. Most of the cost is in "civil engineering", which means earthmoving, bridges, tunnels, culverts, etc. If you did all the civil engineering for a double-track route, it's easy to add extra tracks. If you did the civil engineering for only one track... then you have to go through and build extra bridges, extra abutments, extra culverts; you have to relocate drains; etc. etc.

    The Great Northern was only ever designed as a single-track railroad, and the civil engineering was only done for one track. This is in contrast to (for example) reinstating tracks on the New York Central route through New York State, where all the civil engineering is designed for four tracks.

    Minot to Williston is about 120 miles. I don't know how much double track there was before these projects started, but I'm guessing not much. 55 miles this year + 37 miles next year = 92 miles... still 28 miles to go to get double track just as far as Williston!
     
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  8. Nov 11, 2014 #8

    D.P. Roberts

    D.P. Roberts

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    I'm still waiting for an ISISnado and an Ebolacane.

    And in regards to the EB... I'm also curious as to whether all this trackwork will help the EB's performance. Even more interestingly, how much will it need to improve in order for Amtrak to return the EB to its normal schedule (and connect it to the rest of the rail system).
     
  9. Nov 11, 2014 #9

    Paulus

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    I don't believe that the Empire Builder has ever in its existence had anywhere near an acceptable on time performance record.
     
  10. Nov 11, 2014 #10

    neroden

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    Under James Hill's successors at the Great Northern Railway it did. I suppose you mean under Amtrak.
     
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  11. Nov 11, 2014 #11

    jphjaxfl

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    I was stationed in Grand Forks, ND from 1972 to 1975 and rode the Empire Builder over 50 trips and it was on time 95% of the time. When the weather was bad with heavy snow, planes couldn't fly and busses wouldn't run, but the Empire Builder always came through. The operating crews were ex Great Northern in those days and the dining car had a portrait of James Hill above the buffet at the kitchen end of the car.
     
  12. Nov 11, 2014 #12

    montana mike

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    I concur. When I took the EB's in the past they were on time much of the time, even under Amtrak. The unraveling of any sort of decent timekeeping is a fairly recent event (over the past several years). While I do remember a few of the EB's being an hour or two late, I do not remember the 9-10 hour delays as I have experienced this year.

    Also, the comments about the Hi-Line being engineered for a mostly single track experience are right on the money. This is what my BNSF contacts have pointed out to me on several occasions. I do not see BNSF double tracking large portions of this line. Just too much cost and too much distance. And sadly the "original" EB schedule may be a thing of the past. BNSF has supposedly proposed to Amtrak a new schedule for 2015 and beyond that takes into account the new "reality" of the situation. I asked what it looked like and all I was told was that it was slower than when the EB's ran under JJ Hill!!! They did share that both Amtrak and BNSF were considering adding more "padding" onto the timekeeping in key choke points like central and eastern MT and much of ND. They have already added time for the current temporary schedule, so this doesn't surprise me at all. It could be slow going thru this stretch of the Hi-Line........
     

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