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Intermodal up and running

Minot’s new intermodal facility sees activity

Submitted Photo An overview of Minot’s intermodal facility shows containers available to carry products to a Seattle port for export.

Containerized products are shipping almost weekly from Minot’s new intermodal rail facility.

“Since the opening and the day we made the announcement, there have been nine trains that traveled from Minot to Seattle, carrying North Dakota commodities to the Pacific Coast,” John MacMartin, president of the Minot Area Chamber Economic Development Corp., said Jan. 13.

The first shipping containers arrived at Minot’s intermodal operation Oct. 14. Rail Modal Group Minot operates the intermodal rail service in cooperation with BNSF Railway in the industrial park in east Minot. Also in cooperation with BNSF, RMG operates two other intermodal ramps in Fremont, Nebraska, and Amarillo, Texas.

The state has worked for about two decades to gain access to intermodal service to reduce shipping costs for agricultural producers and other industries.

The process of bringing intermodal to Minot was a collaborative effort of a number of groups. Among them were the governor’s office, congressional delegation, legislators from across the state, the North Dakota Trade Office, North Dakota departments of Commerce, Transportation and Agriculture, Bank of North Dakota, private industry and financial institutions, BNSF and the Northwest Seaport Alliance.

The proximity of the Minot facility for regional customers means significant savings on trucking to more distant intermodal facilities in places such as Minneapolis or Regina and Winnipeg in Canada. Having greater accessibility to rail transport also takes trucks off the road, making it more environmentally friendly.

Since the intermodal service start-up and completion of training, the port has shipped almost a train a week of around 220 to 230 containers, MacMartin said.

The port loads Monday through Friday and occasionally weekends, with trucks often lined up to offload products. Typically, trains depart on a Friday, MacMartin said.

“They’re busy loading containers and having shipments of products come in, and those shipments of products come in from individual producers. It comes in from area elevators,” he said.

Also, dried distillers grain from Blue Flint Ethanol near Underwood, and AGT Foods in Minot’s agricultural park are major users of the service. MacMartin said ADM is looking at shipping canola meal from its plant near Velva.

“There’s a variety of products coming from a variety of locations. And at this point, most of it’s been agricultural,” he said.

Products are shipped in containers that preserve the identity of the products, which is valuable for exporters and the foreign buyers. Products can be shipped from a specific seller to a specific buyer. Each container also can be tracked by serial number.

“That manifest of the train that RMG is required to provide to the railroad and to the steamship operator will tell them exactly where that container is on the train and what’s inside the container,” MacMartin said.

The intermodal facility has close to 20 employees, he said, estimating growth to more than 30 employees eventually.

“If we can be at a train week – solidly a train a week – that’s a huge accomplishment, and whether or not we can increase beyond that at this particular juncture is unknown,” MacMartin said.

RMG sends two trains a week from its Nebraska operation and one a week from the Texas operation, all to Pacific Coast ports in California.

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