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Moving tracks far-off dream: Public input sought on idea

There's not much about the history of area railroads that Dick Zaylskie and Donald Rusness don't know. Now the retired railroad buffs wonder if they're seeing history made again. "I can see this might be the way things end up going," Rusness said.

Railroad consolidation proposal

There's not much about the history of area railroads that Dick Zaylskie and Donald Rusness don't know.

Now the retired railroad buffs wonder if they're seeing history made again.

"I can see this might be the way things end up going," Rusness said. "But I can see this might not work out, either."

The two Fargo men were among the people taking a closer look Tuesday in the West Acres Community Room at a proposal to remove the northern line of the Burlington Northern railroad tracks running through Fargo-Moorhead and re-routing train traffic to the metro area's main railroad line.

The $53.4 million project would yield $65.5 million in new tax property taxes and save local cities $9.4 million in bridge replacement costs, the report found.


The project also would make Fargo-Moorhead safer and more efficient for motorists, according to the study.

But don't hold your breath waiting for rail consolidation.

"This won't happen soon, if at all," said Brian Gibson, transportation analyst with the Fargo Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments.

The project would need federal funding and the backing of local city governments and planning commissions. Even if all goes well, the project wouldn't get started for three to four years and could take as long as 20 years to complete, he said.

John Q. Paulsen, chairman of the Fargo Planning Commission, said the proposal is positive in many ways.

"It warrants serious consideration, but we're a long way from making any decision," he said.

Highlights of the proposal include:

E Adding new rail connections from 19th Avenue North in Fargo to just west of Ninth Street East in West Fargo


E Building an overpass or underpass in West Fargo, possibly at Ninth Street East

E Removing the Fargo train yard at 12th Avenue North and Dakota Drive and moving operations there to an expanded Dilworth train yard

E Building an overpass or underpass in Dilworth, possibly at Main Street

E Moving the Amtrak passenger station on the north line in Fargo to another still-to-be-determined location in the metro area

MetroCOG began studying possible rail consolidation several years ago because of public complaints about noise, safety and traffic delays, Gibson said.

Closing the northern line would eliminate 20 at-grade rail crossings. That would cause a 40 percent reduction in "down gate" time and a 59 percent decline in vehicle delays during the 5 p.m. peak driving hour, according to the report.

The report also found that fewer crossings would result in a 26 percent reduction in potential car and train crashes.

The Fargo-Moorhead area would benefit financially, too, according to the report.


Besides the $9.4 million saved on bridge replacement costs, new development on the land now occupied by the northern line would raise $65.5 million over 20 years for tax districts in Cass and Clay counties.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which Gibson said cooperated with the study, would put no money into the project.

But consolidation would save BNSF $5.2 million in bridge and track replacement costs. And the railroad would receive about $11 million from the sale of land in downtown Fargo and Moorhead now occupied by the northern line, the report said.

MetroCOG commissioned the $80,000 study, conducted by TKDA of St. Paul.

The study was released in May. MetroCOG is holding public meetings on it this month in the metro area.

The Moorhead meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the Hjemkomst Center.

Meetings have been held already in West Fargo and Dilworth.

The West Fargo meeting was poorly attended, Gibson said, and another one probably will be held. A date hasn't been set yet.


More than 50 people attended the meeting in Dilworth, Gibson said.

The meeting revealed strong feelings both for and against the proposal, with no consensus apparent, he said.

Besides expanding the Dilworth yard, the proposal would add a sound wall along the yard's south edge. It also would relocate BNSF's main line to the south side of the existing yard tracks, freeing up 41,000 square feet of track for yard operations.

MetroCOG will collect public input on the study and present it to metro city governments and planning commissions, possibly as soon as year's end, Gibson said.

"What we're asking people is, "Do you like what you see? Are there elements missing? Should we keep moving forward? Should we stop right here?" he said.

Gibson will take public input through the end of July. He can be reached at (701) 232-3242.

Efforts to create a quiet zone in Moorhead and Fargo - an attempt to make trains quieter and tracks safer - will proceed no matter what's decided about consolidation, said John Rowell, chairman of MetroCog's Rail Issues Task Force and a Moorhead city councilman.

He's uncertain when, or even if, rail consolidation will occur.


The project is unlikely to receive crucial federal funding anytime soon, Rowell said.

But even if the project comes to naught, he said, the study was worth completing.

"We now know consolidation is feasible. We now know how much it would cost. That makes the exercise worthwhile," Rowell said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

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