In between U.S. High-way 2 and the BNSF Railway is just enough room for a few houses, a heavy slot of oil boom campers and an industrial zone that benefits from both transport modes.
All day long at Ross, it’s freight in, freight out and the sounds of train horns blaring, semitrailers braking, iron wheels rumbling down the track and 18-wheelers slapping the highway.
If that weren’t enough for a town with dirt streets that are rutted and ragged - partly because oil workers have swelled the population from 50 people to 600 - the railroad is laying new track alongside town. The project is its most ambitious expansion here since the days when the railroad was built with steam shovels and men swinging pick axes.
A second, side-by-side track will double BNSF’s capacity between Minot and Glendive, Montana, and hopefully unclog congestion, at least through the Bakken.
The railway’s been under some pressure to get better service to elevators to move grain out and fertilizer in. It reported this month that it was still running an average of 26 days late.
It’s investing $620 million along the northern corridor route to improve that schedule. Sections of the new track will be usable this year and all of it will be by next year, BNSF spokeswoman Amy Mcbeth told The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/QZH5V6 ).
Overall, BNSF invested $4 billion in expansion and maintenance last year and $5 billion this year, exceeding any historical investments in the industry by any railroad, she said.
BNSF is using its existing right of way for the most part and the track is installed with a gigantic piece of specialized machinery that can throw down a concrete rail tie every eight seconds and then pass over with the iron track, Mcbeth said.
For some living along the line, the railway is a neighbor that can’t be ignored because it’s loud and constantly in the way. For others, it’s an indispensable business partner.
Like it or not, it’s now showing up an average of 36 times a day, often pulling 100-car tanker trains loaded with Bakken crude. With another track, that number will only increase. Mcbeth said the railroad isn’t forecasting what that increase could be, only “that we’ve identified a need for additional capacity.”
She said about half of the trains carry consumer goods traveling the main route between Chicago and Pacific ports.
For people like Greg Bruhn, who has farmland east of Ross near Blaisdell, another small nearby town, the railroad falls into the first category, an unwelcome neighbor.
The family farm was split off by the railroad and he has to cross it just behind Blaisdell to get home a mile away. He said backed up trains sometimes block the direct route for a couple of hours, forcing him to find a way to go around it.
“A guy can sit there a long time waiting to get across. That’s been going on for years. The upside of the double track is they won’t be blocking the crossing, but there will be more trains. I don’t know if it’s an up or downside,” Bruhn said. “They blow their horn starting on the other side of town all the way through. People here are really fed up when it gets to be 3 a.m.”