Bigger, faster trains on the way

Norwood Young America residents toured a train engine in October of 2009 during the Minnesota Valley Regional Rail Coalition’s three-day, 94-mile “Whistle Stop Tour” from NYA to Hanley Falls to raise funds for rehabilitation of the Minnesota Prairie Line. By next Monday, Nov. 26, an upgraded line between NYA and Winthrop will accommodate larger, faster trains and could lead to increased train traffic through NYA and Hamburg. File photo by Paul Downer

Thanks to upgrades to the Minnesota Prairie Line railroad, bigger and faster trains will soon be rolling through Norwood Young America and Hamburg on their way southwest to Winthrop and beyond.

A decade-long effort to fundraise and rehabilitate the line between NYA and Winthrop will be complete on Monday, Nov. 26, and that will bring a noticeable change to railroad operations in the local area.

“What you can expect to see is longer trains, faster trains, and bigger locomotives traversing the line between Norwood and Winthrop,” said Bob Suko, general manager of operations for Minnesota Prairie Line, Inc.
“While gates have been installed at many locations in conjunction with the rehabilitation, we caution everyone to understand that you will likely see more trains and they are certainly going to be moving at a much faster rate of speed from Winthrop to Norwood than you are used to seeing. Please anticipate that any time is train time, and please understand the caution needed for all vehicle and farm traffic. Please use caution as you approach the tracks at all grade and farm crossings.”

Rehabilitation work included the replacement of ties and ballast, and primarily involved the replacement of the rails themselves. Those improvements will allow a speed increase from 10 mph to 25 mph between NYA and Winthrop. The line continues running west from Winthrop to Hanley Falls on the western end, but that section will remain at a 10 mph level until additional funding is available and restoration work can proceed. Suko said the long-term goal is to upgrade the entire 94-mile stretch of track.

Suko added that the amount of increased traffic on the Prairie Line is yet to be determined, as higher speeds will allow greater capabilities, but said that one train per day is a good number to start from. The junction of the Minnesota Prairie Line (MPL) with the thriving Twin Cities & Western (TCW) line in NYA, however, will lead to higher traffic locally.

“You guys up in Norwood, being on the TCW piece too, that volume is increasing pretty dramatically, so through Norwood itself, when you combine TCW and MPL traffic, you might be talking 4-5 trains a day on some days,” said Suko.

The MPL is a subsidiary of the Glencoe-based TCW, and Suko said that things are going well in the train business. Traffic has increased from 2-4 trains per day through the area to 4-5 trains per day, and a large new grain shuttle facility in Brownton and another facility in Buffalo Lake have “dramatically impacted” the company’s business for the better.

In addition to higher speeds and more trains, the trains running on the MPL will be returning to daylight operations.

“Previously on the MPL during the summer months, because the lighter rail would get stressed by the heat, we’d run at night,” said Suko. “Now that this rehab is all done we’ll move back to daytime operations for the foreseeable future.”

Suko cautioned, however, that area residents should anticipate trains coming through local crossings 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We would like to thank everyone that made this rehabilitation possible and look forward to continuing westward to allow everyone the access to a higher speed and reliable railroad,” he concluded. “I just want to make sure this gets out because it’s a big change.”