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North Dakota officials celebrate new intermodal service

The new service will benefit agricultural producers and processors seeking access to the export market.

BNSF will service trains at a new intermodal facility in Minot, North Dakota. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The first containers that are part of a new intermodal service out of North Dakota arrived Tuesday and will be making their way to the Port of Seattle soon.

Rail Modal Group (RMG) Minot is operating the new intermodal rail service, which North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum first announced last week. Stakeholders say the intermodal service will enable agricultural producers and processors to have access to international markets and not be captive to local and regional markets.

“This is going to be more impactful than what a lot of people realize, not just to Minot, not just to north-central North Dakota but across all of North Dakota and across all of the Upper Midwest,” said Minot Mayor Shaun Sipma at a Wednesday virtual press event. “To have intermodal, a facility like this, to come and have access to the Pacific Northwest and to the trade areas of the world is going to be profound. I think we’re just literally at the very pinpoint of watching just how much is going to be accomplished and how impactful it’s going to be.”

The facility, located in Minot, will be served by BNSF (NYSE: BRK). 

“Rail transportation has always been integral to the Minot and state economies, and this new intermodal facility expands rail service even further,” said Amy McBeth, BNSF regional assistant vice president for public affairs. “In addition to the intermodal facility, Minot hosts the only BNSF certified site in the state. The designation by BNSF identifies rail-served industrial sites that have met stringent readiness standards intended to reduce development time and risk for companies seeking rail-served sites.”

Shippers such as agricultural producer AGT Foods (TSX: AGT.TO) praised the new service. At the press event Wednesday, Eric Bartsch, division head of global food ingredients for AGT, said, “What we want to do with the products that are growing here [is] we want to add value to those products … but in order to be successful in that area, you need an opportunity to move that logistically around the world. And containers are the one way — really the only way — to move these materials throughout here to regions like Asia, Middle East and India. … It allows companies like us to expand. It’s going to attract other companies in because of that opportunity to move these goods through intermodal.”

The Minot Area Development Corp. described how it had been trying for years to identify partners willing to place containers in Minot so that area producers and processors could have greater access to the export market, according to a Wednesday announcement. Area producers also pushed for intermodal service. The group found a partner with RMG. 

RMG also operates with BNSF two other inland intermodal facilities for containerized export shippers, in Fremont, Nebraska, and Amarillo, Texas. 

“RMG is proud to support the producers and shippers throughout North Dakota and surrounding areas to provide international export capacity through our newly developed Port of Minot,” said RMG President and CEO Greg Oberting.

As the intermodal containers reach the Pacific Northwest, the Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) will guide them using on-dock trains to terminals at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. 

“This new rail service means lower costs for our export customers in the Great Plains shipping valuable agricultural commodities through our gateway,” said Peter Steinbrueck, Port of Seattle commission president and co-chair of the NWSA.

State officials estimate that agricultural producers’ shipping costs could be reduced by an average of 15% to 25% because the goods will have fewer touch points as they travel to their destinations. 

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.