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Some trains traveling through the city of Devils Lake could double their speed — from 30 to as high as 60 mph — beginning next month.

The proposed speed limit increase, announced earlier this month by BNSF Railway, has drawn sharp criticism from Devils Lake officials, who have responded with concerns over safety.

“It’s just not acceptable,” Mayor Dick Johnson said.

Devils Lake and BNSF officials will meet Monday to discuss the proposal.

BNSF informed Devils Lake Police Chief Keith Schroeder of the planned speed change in an email dated July 7. Schroeder responded with a formal request to withdraw the plan.

“The areas are very heavily populated as they go by a trailer court, residential area and two schools in addition to downtown Devils Lake,” the mayor said in separate email response to BNSF.

The change, which affects 1.4 miles of track in the city, is being made as a result of recent track improvements, according to Steve Forsberg, BNSF’s general director of external relations.

“It really isn’t any different than if you upgrade a highway,” he said. “It doesn’t mean all trains will travel at that speed.”

BNSF has made about $700 million in rail improvements in North Dakota over the past three years, he said, adding that the track through Devils Lake already is being maintained to handle Class 4 standards, which allow maximum speeds of 60 mph for freight trains.

In addition, Forsberg said, heavier trains, such as fully loaded unit trains transporting grain, coal or oil, are regulated to travel at lower speeds, he said. Trains carrying oil also have more restrictive safety regulations set by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Since 2009, the number of carloads originating or terminating in North Dakota has doubled, according to Forsberg.

“That’s staggering,” he said.

Daily rail traffic through Devils Lake has increased from seven to 10 last fall to 10 to 12 daily this summer. Those numbers do not include two daily Amtrak passenger trains.

“We normally send notification to mayors and police chiefs and sheriffs, to give them advance notice of the coming speed change,” Forsberg said. “We’re happy to sit down with the mayor and other city officials to walk through the change and make sure everybody’s concerns are addressed.”

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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