Port connects ND with world markets

Containers are on move at Minot’s intermodal facility

A North Dakota delegation traveled to Tacoma, Washington, in January to provide an update on the Logistics Park of North Dakota Intermodal Facility to The Northwest Seaport Alliance managing members. From left are: back, Commissioners Deanna Keller, Dick Marzano and John McCarthy, all Port of Tacoma; Commissioner Fred Felleman, Port of Seattle; Ryan Ackerman, Minot Area Chamber EDC; Commissioner Don Meyer, Port of Tacoma; Steve Balaski, NWSA; Greg Oberting and Monica Oberting, both Rail Modal Group; John Wolfe, NWSA; front, Commissioner Hamdi Mohamed, Port of Seattle; Commissioner Kristin Ang, Port of Tacoma; Commissioner Doug Goehring, N.D. Department of Agriculture; and Brekka Kramer, Minot Area Chamber EDC.

Success has been coming more quickly than expected for the Logistic Park of North Dakota Intermodal Facility, located on Minot’s east side.

“This has taken so many partnerships and strategic relationships to try to figure out and crack the code of how to ship intermodal out of North Dakota consistently and provide continuous service – reliable service – so the market can actually rely on it and then use it regularly,” said Brekka Kramer, president/CEO of Minot Area Chamber EDC. “When we started this, our goal was we were trying to get on track to have at least one unit train a month. We knew that would allow us enough consistency to show that we were operating and doing the right thing for the state of North Dakota on this.

“As we’ve been able to prove that service is reliable and consistent and steady, that volume has increased,” she said. In 2023, the port was shipping two to three unit trains a month. Unit trains can vary in size but include numerous containers.

“We’re on track to sustain that and grow that in 2024. We’re seeing some trends where we’re looking at three to four unit trains a month,” Kramer said.

Although the train numbers will fluctuate based on various factors, Kramer noted, “That type of growth – that was a longer term plan for us than what we’re seeing, which is great.”

Headquarters at the intermodal facility are shown in February.

The port has shipped to 21 countries with an impressive consistency of volume, she said. There have been 74 trains since intermodal service launched in October 2020, saving more than 10 million truck miles.

Top commodities shipped have been pulses, wheat, soybeans and dried distillers grains, according to an intermodal report prepared in January.

Rail Modal Group operates the facility under a long-term lease.

“And they are investing in that site,” Kramer said. “Because of the increased traffic, they’ve poured some concrete in areas. They are building additional storage due to some of their most recent contracts.”

Last fall, MACEDC hosted a delegation from Japan who wanted to see firsthand their commodities coming out of North Dakota. Sugar beet pulp from eastern North Dakota is trucked to Minot and shipped from the intermodal facility directly to the Japanese markets.

A unit train takes shape with a line of containers prepared for shipment at the intermodal facility on Minot’s east side in early 2023.

“There’s just some really great opportunities with the port that we’re seeing, and having that consistent operator has been great,” Kramer said.

The Minot port’s other strategic partner, the Northwest Seaport Alliance, with ports in Tacoma and Seattle, ensures dockside service on the West Coast, which means containers move out of North Dakota directly to the ships without waiting in storage or requiring trucking at that end.

“So we have some competitive advantages of speed of service to get the North Dakota commodities out to global markets,” Kramer said.

At the Minot port, a $2.4 million rail line has been built with the help of a $2 million grant from the 2021 North Dakota Legislature. The track was built on MACEDC land and connects to BNSF’s Gavin Yard. It removed intermodal operations from BNSF’s mainline and onto dedicated tracks.

With a federal Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program grant received a number of years ago, MACEDC is planning construction of rail infrastructure on land north of the intermodal facility in the agricultural park. Those rail lines between the ag park and intermodal facility would serve to attract value-added companies to the ag park because of the connection to global markets. Talks have taken place with some prospective companies, and different market potentials are being investigated, Kramer said.

“There’s a lot of different leads and prospects that we’re looking at,” she said.

Meanwhile, the planning for that rail development is still underway. The public comment period on an environmental document closes April 15.

In addition, MACEDC is supporting the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project by providing clay from its property north of the port for levee work in Minot.

More work lies ahead in fully using the intermodal facility.

“We’ve worked hard to see what the opportunities are for inbound traffic as well. Because right now, we’re moving empty containers in and we’re moving full unit trains out. At some point, too, another opportunity for growth with the intermodal site is going to be watching to see – is there some kind of warehousing? Is there some kind of distribution, where we could actually bring full containers in versus empties and move them out?” Kramer said. The goal, she said, is building a long term sustainable benefit to the community and state.

“We’re very optimistic on the outlook moving forward,” Kramer said. But even now, to be moving intermodal product out of North Dakota every month “is pretty phenomenal if you look at the 20 years of people envisioning this but not quite getting there,” she added.

Today, the port generates tax revenue as well as revenue for the private sector, she said, crediting the success to the help of state partners.

“If we do our part in marketing, making sure people are aware of the service that’s available for the area, we see just a lot of opportunities and, hopefully, potential growth ahead,” she said.


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