The Minnesota Prairie Line continues to grow – both economically and in terms of physical rehabilitation.
The 94-mile short line railroad, owned by the Minnesota Valley Regional Rail Authority and operated by Twin City & Western Railroad, is inching closer every year to its ultimate goal of running trains on its rail at 25 miles per hour from Hanley Falls to Norwood-Young America.
“The 25 miles an hour goal might not seem very fast, but it is 2.5 times faster than the 10 miles per hour we are doing on most of the line now,” said Mark Wegner, Twin City & Western president who spoke about the rail line during a presentation with the Redwood County Board of commissioners this past Tuesday. “Running this line at 10 miles per hour long term is not a viable or profitable option for us.”
In 2012, nearly 6,000 cars were loaded and hauled along the line, and Wegner said more than 80 percent of those cars were from the ethanol plant at Winthrop – from that point east the line is currently able to operate at the 25 miles per hour speed.
As a short-line railroad, Minnesota Prairie Line serves any and all customers from the five counties the line runs through, said Wegner.
“Every car load matters to us,” said Wegner, adding the goal is to help the economies of the areas where the rail line operates to improve. “We want to help the whole region grow.”
In the area Wegner said he is hoping to see more business from stops in locations, such as Delhi in 2013.
“We were hauling cars from Delhi until the storm hit,” said Wegner, adding other elevators in Echo and Wood Lake have been working with the rail line recently.
There is lots of room to grow, too.
Wegner said he really appreciates the Red-wood area, because it has a vision beyond the boundaries of one city or county.
“The broader outlook I have seen here is very refreshing,” said Wegner. “We need to get that word out to potential businesses and shippers.”
The cars currently running on most of the line have a weight of 263,000 pounds, and Wegner said he hopes as the line continues to be rehabilitated to meet the 25 miles per hour goal those cars can also increase in weight capacity to the 286,000 pound standard many rails are using today.
Just that increase can create even greater efficiencies leading to reduced shipping costs for those using the line, and that means a better economic outlook, added Wegner.
Wegner said there is a constant dialogue going on with prospective shippers along the rail line, as they work to increase business.
Page 2 of 2 - That business has been enhanced over the past 10 years the rail has been operating, as the rail is also being used as a storage area for cars waiting to be shipped.
“We have more requests for storage than we have space,” said Wegner.
A request for an additional $10 million has been made in state bonding funds to take the rail line to the next stage in its rehab plan, said Wegner, adding every dollar is helping meet the goal.
Wegner said the cost to make improvements is in the half a million dollars per mile range, which means a $10 million allocation from the state could get the upgrade work completed to Franklin.
Wegner said he is hoping to meet with Redwood Falls officials soon to work on ways the rail line can better serve the community.
“We are here for you,” said Wegner.