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Getting back on the track: Amtrak leader looks for support during rail service disruptions

FNS Photo by Kevin Bonham Grand Forks City Councilman Dana Sande listens as Joe Boardman, Amtrak president and CEO, talks about the temporary rerouting of passenger rail service around Grand Forks and Devils Lake to allow for repairs on the BNSF tracks and the company’s commitment to the region.

GRAND FORKS — Just days after Amtrak announced a five-month-long detour around Grand Forks and Devils Lake, President and CEO Joe Boardman made a whistle stop in Grand Forks.

“We’re out here to talk to the communities about economic development, the importance of mobility, the importance of national connectivity, the kinds of things that are critical for the future,” he said at a stop at Canad Inns.

Amtrak announced earlier this week that it would detour the westbound Empire Builder train to allow BNSF Railway to make infrastructure improvements along the line that runs from Fargo through Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby to Minot. Charter buses will cover haul passengers between Fargo and Minot through Sept. 30.

The eastbound Empire Builder will operate normally, making all scheduled stops.

It’s the second planned detour in the past six months, after months of both scheduled and unscheduled delays that have resulted from track congestion.

BNSF has identified a variety of factors, including weather, heavy traffic from the Bakken Oil Patch and high demand for moving agricultural and other products.

Amtrak leases the track from BNSF, which announced recently it is investing approximately $400 million in North Dakota to expand, replace and maintain its infrastructure.


That work includes three rail siding projects between Grand Forks and Minot and four siding projects between Fargo and Grand Forks, as well as other work in the state.

“It’s an inconvenience to people who want to ride Amtrak, but it’s also an inconvenience to Amtrak itself,” Grand Forks City Council member Dana Sande said. “They don’t want the service interrupted any more than the passengers do.

“But Amtrak has been very good to the communities in North Dakota, recognizing that agriculture is very important, moving oil from the Bakken is very important. So, rather than make it more difficult, they’ve gone out of their way to find alternative ways to move people while the upgrades to the track can be done, so that they can provide better service in the future.”

Boardman also is rallying support from local officials in hopes that they will lobby the congressional delegation about the need for continued federal funding for Amtrak of $700 million for Fiscal 2015.

He plans to visit Devils Lake today and Minot on Saturday.

On Thursday, Boardman presented city officials with a sign touting Grand Forks as “An Amtrak Served Community.” City officials will decide where and how many signs will be placed in town.

“Grand Forks is very much on the radar,” he said. “We want to make sure we have a good, strong relationship with the community, understand what their issues and concerns are and connection with Amtrak.”

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  

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