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Burgum announces launch of intermodal service, after yearslong effort

Burgum announces launch of intermodal service, after yearslong effort

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North Dakota soon will have intermodal rail service, after an effort that has spanned two decades and included at least two unsuccessful attempts.

Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday announced that BNSF Railway will provide an intermodal unit train at a facility in Minot, which he said will reduce shipping costs for farm products by as much as 25%.

The term "intermodal" refers to containers that can be used to ship products via truck, rail or ship, with little human interaction. Product being shipped does not need to be unloaded and repacked as it moves between different types of transportation.

North Dakota officials have long desired an intermodal facility. The Northern Plains Commerce Center that opened in Bismarck in 2008 was meant to be one, but that never materialized.

The North Dakota Trade Office formally launched the "North Dakota Intermodal Initiative" in 2014, working with North Dakota Port Services, a company that operated the Port of North Dakota in Minot. In November of that year, the state Agriculture Department announced a shipment from Minot of split green peas to a West Coast port, a collaborative effort involving the state, BNSF Railway, North Dakota Port Services and other private companies.

North Dakota Port Services soon ran into financial problems, however. A bank foreclosed, and the city of Minot terminated its property lease in 2018.

Previous shipments from the Minot facility were not intermodal shipments in any case, according to James Leiman, director of economic development and finance at the North Dakota Department of Commerce. They were sent via a multimodal, or transloading, method, which differs from intermodal in that shipping containers are opened and goods transferred between different modes of transportation. The need for human labor increases the shipping costs, Leiman said.

An intermodal train that will arrive in Minot next week will be "arguably the first true intermodal operation in the state of North Dakota," Leiman said. "This is the real deal now."

Burgum called it a "game-changer."

"Producers and processors across our state will now have access to competitively priced transportation, which will enable us to further grow and diversify our economy,” he said.

The North Dakota Grain Dealers Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment left after hours Wednesday. BNSF Railway did not immediately provide more details on the intermodal service.

The private company that will manage the system will be named next week, Leiman said.

Burgum made the announcement at the close of the 2020 Main Street ND Summit, part of his Main Street Initiative to revitalize and spur growth in the state's communities. 

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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