Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Aberdeen, S.D., railway laying tracks into the future

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The distinct whistle blaring and the distant, thunder-like clanking commonly heard through Aberdeen, S.D. are the sounds of the Hub City's history, the Aberdeen News reports. And, one railroad official said, they are the sounds of its future.

“Aberdeen plays a key role in (BNSF Railway's) South Dakota operation and will continue to serve as a BNSF terminal in South Dakota, as well as offering mainline service handling local, national and international freight,” said Gus Melonas, BNSF spokesman in Seattle.

Aberdeen's nickname, the Hub City, was coined because the town was once, well, the hub of numerous rail lines - including the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad; the Chicago and North Western Railway; the Great Northern Railroad and the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. Trains have carried many types of cargo into the Hub City over the years - including a carload of beer on July 4, 1882, according to historic reports. And trains have rolled in some pretty famous passengers, including at least three U.S. presidents: William McKinley in 1899; William Howard Taft in 1911; and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.

The first passenger train arrived Aug. 1, 1881. The final Milwaukee passenger train reportedly left the Aberdeen depot for Minneapolis in April 1969. (So former President George W. Bush couldn't use a train for his 2002 visit, nor could President Barack Obama, when he visited last year as a presidential hopeful.)

Today, BNSF remains as the sole major railroad in Aberdeen, Melonas said. And although volumes have decreased recently with the downturn in the economy, he said, the railroad will continue to play a vital role in the economy's recovery and into the future.

“BNSF is gearing up to meet future demands by investing millions in South Dakota rail lines by adding new rail, new ties and surfacing track to ensure a safe and efficient operation for customers' products,” Melonas said.

Those products include everything from textiles to tennis shoes.

Track facts:
• About six to eight BNSF through trains pass through Aberdeen daily. Times vary.
• From the Hub City, the line connects northwest to Hettinger, N.D., east to Willmar, Minn., and south to Mitchell.
• Aberdeen also provides main line connections to the Great Lakes/Chicago marketplace; Nebraska; and BNSF operations in the Pacific Northwest, which includes ports and inland operations.
• Trains carry grain, coal and mixed commodity freight. A daily intermodal train between Chicago and Laurel, Mont., that passes through Aberdeen handles everything from textiles to computers to televisions to tennis shoes to household appliances. Intermodal containers can go on trucks, boats and trains.
• Train cars are also switched in the Aberdeen terminal.
• When other routes such as those through Minot and Mandan, N.D., are nearing capacity, overflow traffic can be routed through Aberdeen. It's also a hub for interchange with shortline carrier Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad, which provides extended local/regional service.
• 110 BNSF personnel work in the Aberdeen area, including train yard and engine employees; bridge and building personnel; track maintenance employees; and mechanical/signal workers.
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