The waiting game
The fate of Amtrak service in Rugby remains in question, but for now, the train is still making daily stops, and Rugby Mayor Dale Niewoehner said no final decisions have been made.
“We’re hopeful a plan can be in place soon concerning the infrastructure problems and service will remain on Burlington Northern-Santa Fe’s main line,’ Niewoehner said.
Rising waters near Churchs Ferry has threatened the stability of a section of track there. Water is near the base of one of the railroad bridges in that area and BNSF has indicated raising the bridge and creating new embankments would and other track adjustments could be as high as $100 million. BNSF at this time does not plan to make such repairs.
A plan to move Amtrak’s Empire Builder service from its current route along BNSF’s main line to BNSF’s KO Subdivision, commonly referred to as the Surrey cutoff, was proposed. That would eliminate the concerns about the rising water near sections of track, but would mean three cities – Rugby, Devils Lake and Grand Forks – would be bypassed and no longer have Amtrak service.
That possibility has residents in those communities concerned. “I’ve gotten a lot of calls about this,’ Niewoehner said. “We’re working the best we can to see if something can be worked out,’ he said.
Niewoehner along with other city and county officials met last month with Ray Lang, director of Government affairs for the Empire Builder route, based in Chicago; and a BNSF officials to discuss the track troubles near Churchs Ferry and the potential rerouting of the train.
Niewoehner also had correspondence with other Amtrak officials – past and present, including Joe McHugh, vice president of governmental affirs in the Washington office and David Gunn, former Amtrak president.
Gov. John Hoeven’s office also has been notified of the poential loss of train service for Rugby, Devils Lake and Grand Forks.
Niewoehner stressed how privileged the community is to have this service and also the fact to have a depot agent on staff to take ticket orders.
The train not only serves Rugby and Pierce County, but citizens in several area towns as well as people north of the border. “There are a number of Canadians who board the train here,’ he said. “It’s a service they also don’t want to see end.”
For now, it’s a bit of a waiting game as BNSF and Amtrak look at was to address the infrastructure problems. North Dakota’s three Congressional delegates – Sen. Kent Conrad-D; Sen. Byron Dorgan-D; and Rep. Earl Pomeroy-D are also involved in talks.
Niewoehner encouraged residents to contact them to share their concerns about the possible rerouting of Amtrak.
Ultimately, it will come down to money in order to make repairs and keep Amtrak running its existing route. And just where those funds come from remains to be seen.
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