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BNSF officials plan to move forward with doubling train speeds in Devils Lake

BNSF railway will increase speed limit from this point in Devils Lake for 1.4 miles through town from 30 to 60 mph effective Friday. Resident Ed Fischer who lives in the tan house on the right, is concerned the higher speed will increase the threat of accidents. Photo by Kevin Bonham.1 / 2
Devils Lake mayor Dick Johnson. Photo by Kevin Bonham2 / 2

DEVILS LAKE — Ed Fischer isn’t surprised that BNSF Railway balked Monday at postponing Friday’s scheduled doubling of speeds — from 30 to 60 mph — of some freight trains traveling through town to consider local safety concerns.

“My biggest concern is that people still drive around those crossarms,” he said. “A few weeks ago they knocked one off. What’s going to happen if the trains are coming twice as fast?”

For the past 26 years, Fischer has lived about 150 feet from the BNSF railroad tracks, where they cross 12th Avenue, the eastern point of a 1.4-mile stretch of tracks where speed limits will increase to match those of the rest of the railroad’s northern route through North Dakota.

“It rattles the house now, but we’ve gotten used to it,” he said. “What it’s going to be like at 60, I don’t know.”

BNSF officials on Monday rejected a proposal from Devils Lake officials to delay the effective date of the speed increase.

City officials argued that BNSF should take a closer look at safety issues, including the location of an elementary school, a day care center, two parks and the downtown business district.

Mayor Dick Johnson said children and adults cross those tracks at all hours of the day, not just at the 12th Avenue crossing, but as short cuts in other parts of the city.

“To increase the track speed to 60 mph, in our opinion, really compromises safety,” he said.

In a Power Point presentation, Police Chief Keith Schroeder showed photographs of paths worn through grass where local residents cross the tracks near schools and parks.

Amy McBeth, BNSF spokeswoman, said the railroad has made more about $700 million in infrastructure improvements, including $400 million in the past year, in North Dakota.

“To be clear, the speed limit already is 60 mph on both sides of that 1.4-mile stretch,” she said. “The only place to safely cross is at crossings.”

She also said oil trains and other heavier trains, such as fully loaded unit trains transporting grain or coal, travel at lower speeds, because of more restrictive safety regulations set by the Federal Railroad Administration.

“All of the infrastructure to support the speed increase is in place. It’s solid,” said Rick Van Wey, BNSF manager of field safety support, who is based in Carrington, N.D.

 “It’s not the infrastructure I’m worried about,” the mayor said. “It’s public safety. You have to be concerned with the potential of accidents and derailments.”

“I’ll take your concerns back to our operations team,” she said, “but at this point, the plan is to proceed with the Aug. 1 speed increase.”

While she offered no timeline for reviewing the concerns, she said she would contact city officials within a week for a follow-up.

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  

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