Commerce commissioner: ND needs an 'intermodal transportation' site

May 29, 2018

Commerce Commissioner Jay Schuler.
Credit ND Commerce dept.

North Dakota’s Commerce Commissioner believes North Dakota needs an intermodal transportation site.

“Intermodal transportation” means freight is loaded into special containers that can be moved between different modes of transportation without having to unload the contents and repack it.

"We do not have an intermodal site in North Dakota, which is very unfortunate," Commerce Commissioner Jay Schuler said in an interview. "We are working very hard throuugh the state's Trade Office and through Commerce to entice either the BNSF (Railroad) or the Canadian Pacific to locate an intermdal site."

Minot has tried to have such a site. It has a site dubbed the “Port of North Dakota,”  but so far it isn’t intermodal.

"The main line (for BNSF) actually goes through Minot," Schuler said.

The President and CEO of the Minot Area Development Corporation said she's hopeful.

"With oil coming back, people are more optimistic," said Stephanie Hoffert. "They're looking at the opportunites because of the two Class One railroads and the three US highways that serve Minot. Logistically, it makes sense."

Minot is served by the BNSF and CP Rail, and is on US Highways 2, 52 and 83.

Hoffert said the Corporation owns 800 acres of land, 400 acres of which were “site certified” by the  BNSF Railroad. And she said BN is marketing Minot.

Hoffert said it’s an opportunity.

"Right now, some companies are trucking stuff all the way to Winnipeg or Minneapolis," Hoffert said. "We need to do it here in North Dakota."

Hoffert said Minot has the infrastructure in-place.

"We have enough track that we can bring in a unit train," Hoffert said. "We have to split it. But as we build more businesses in-place, we can extend that track and make sure we are able to have full unit trains. Now that we have acreage available, it's easier to sell to a potential company."

Early on, the Northern Plains Commerce Center in Bismarck was supposed to be an intermodal center. But now, the Bismarck-Mandan Development Association markets it as a “rail-served industrial park.”

BMDA president and CEO Brian Ritter said the problem has been getting consistent container service from the railroads.

"We have tremendous service from both the CP and the BNSF," Ritter said. "What we don't have is 20 to 40 foot shipping containers coming on those lines."

Ritter said what also works against the Northern Plains Commerce Center from becoming intermodal is a lack of room – the current spaces are occupied.

"Let's say we were able to secure service for shipping containers," Ritter said. "We would have to find a spot within the NPCC that had enough room for x-amount of feet of rail, as well as storage space. While I can conceive of it being feasible, I don't know if it's practical.