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Group reapplies for grant to build Willmar railroad bypass

WILLMAR — BNSF Railway, along with local governmental partners, will try again to obtain a federal grant to help build the proposed $50 million railroad bypass, also known as a wye, west of Willmar to possibly divert up to a third of the trains in and out of the city’s rail yard.

In their first attempt in 2014, the partners did not receive any funding under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program when the grants were announced in September, so they’ll be submitting another application in 2015.

The partners — Willmar City Council, Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Minnesota Department of Transportation and Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission — have approved another memorandum of understanding to financially assist in supporting the wye project.

Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services, said the partners continued their discussion regarding the proposed wye project after the first grant application did not receive funding and they agreed it was worth pursuing again.

“We realize that this is something that’s going to take a while to get done and if we can get the funding in 2015, if we’re successful this next year, we should be able to complete it by 2017,” Peterson said. “And if not, we’ll have to come back for a different memorandum of understanding if we’re going to try it again.”

Peterson said he believes BNSF is considering revising its level of participation and allow the governmental partners to reduce their share.

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“There was some response from the federal grant agency that perhaps we’re asking for a little too much money and they wanted the railroad to contribute more. That will all be analyzed when we do our next application,” he said.

Peterson said BNSF’s consultant has already done the engineering for the project.

“The nice thing about this project is a great deal of it has been engineered. So if it did get approved for funding, it’s got the ability to turn around very quickly and go to bid,” he said.

The proposed 2.5-mile, north-south wye would connect BNSF’s Morris subdivision track, which goes to the northwest to Fargo-Moorhead, and the Marshall subdivision track, which goes southwest to Sioux Falls, S.D.

The wye would run parallel along the east side of County Road 55 and would include a spur into the Willmar Industrial Park.

Associated with the project is construction of motor vehicle overpasses at the intersection of state Highway 40 and County Road 55, and at County Road 55 and U.S. Highway 12.

Officials have said the wye would reduce congestion in the rail system and help efficiently move oil, coal and ag commodities.

At the present time, trains entering Willmar from either the Morris or Marshall subdivisions must disconnect and move the engines to the front of the train before continuing either northwest or southwest.

The wye would allow trains to bypass Willmar without entering the yard and reconfiguring the trains.

Peterson said grants will be announced in the late summer of 2015. In theory, he said, the grants go to areas to help them recover from the recession.

“We aren’t in a real good position to require money for that purpose because we did not suffer that badly from the recession,” he said. “But we do qualify because we do have a major carrier through this area and because of all the changes economically west of here in the Bakken (oil field in North Dakota). That’s the driving force behind this. … Every train car that hauls oil is one less that’s hauling coal or ag products.”


This article was written by David Little from West Central Tribune, Willmar, Minn. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.