Winter's parting insult

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Saturday, April 5, 2014

For BNSF Railway, the winter just now fitfully fading away in the upper Midwest was one for the record books, or at least the recent record books. I was in North Dakota this week, curious to see if any of the congestion remained. I found very little of that, other than loaded oil trains staged between Minot, N.D., and the Twin Cities because eastern connections weren’t able to take them.

But about 10 miles west of Minot I came upon one of the calling cards left behind by the bitter cold: a frost heave. You may have another name for it, but it’s what happens when the ground thaws in spring. There are a multitude of them this spring. I’d hate to go over this one at track speed, but don’t worry, like the others it is protected by a speed restriction (note the yellow flag).

BNSF has probably focused its attention on heaves appearing on its northern Transcon, and by now the one pictured here has hopefully been tamped and straightened. Secondary main lines will get attention later. One such secondary line is the one used by Amtrak’s Empire Builder between Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot in North Dakota. The Builder this week consistently lost 100-105 minutes over this 275-mile stretch, due entirely to speed restrictions. The westbound Builder I rode dealt with 34 speed restrictions from Fargo to Minot, and not once could that train achieve its supposed top speed of 79 mph (It got to 74 mph once before slowing for a 25 mph patch).

In such ways the winter of 2014 continues to torment our transportation system, weeks after the calendar claims it came to an end.—Fred W. Frailey

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