Northern Plains Rail Companies on Wednesday held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new Grand Plains Rail Center, which company leaders say will allow it to service and maintain rail cars in Grand Forks.

The event was held at Alerus Center due to the wet and windy conditions at the north Grand Forks site.

“(The) Grand Plains Rail Center will be the single largest project in our history,” Northern Plains Railroad Chairman Gregg Haug told the Herald. “It is critical to NPR to find new markets, serve rail customers and offer our total suite of products in your region.”

The Grand Plains Rail Center will be a rail car servicing and repair facility designed to complement NPR’s existing facility in Erskine, Minn. It is located on 283 acres of industrial zoned land near Interstate 29 at 1335 23rd Ave. NE in Grand Forks.

Northern Plains Rail, which started in 1997 with about a dozen employees, now employs nearly 200. Haug predicts that “probably a couple of dozen excellent jobs” will be involved in the Grand Plains Rail Center.

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Along with the potential of additional jobs, the facility also should come with a benefit for the nearby North Dakota Mill, according to Vance Taylor, the mill’s president and CEO.

“We’re excited about it. It’ll give us a local option for car repairs that we don’t have today,” said Taylor.

Taylor noted railroad cars sometimes need to be sent out of town to be repaired. The opening of the Grand Plains Rail Center makes it convenient to have cars repaired in the Grand Forks area.

Brandon Baumbach, of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., calls the new facility “a fundamental infrastructure piece for our broader economy to benefit.”

“Hopefully it continues to grow and over the years it provides another rail access point,” said Baumbach.

Construction on the earthwork and rail is expected to be finished by the end of this year, with the repair facility expected to be finished by spring.

Northern Plains Rail operates a 350-mile network in North Dakota and Minnesota. The company primarily handles commodities such as wheat, soybeans and corn, as well as industrial products such as steel.

In addition to rail shipping, Northern Plains Rail also repairs railroad cars and tracks, consults on track design, inspects and maintains locomotives and conducts safety training for short line and industrial railways. The company’s headquarters are located in Fordville, N.D.

“I’d say that this is the kind of project that enables a lot more,” said Baumbach.