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Battalion of heavy equipment rolls in to fix railroad line

The Canadian Pacific Railway tracks northwest of Kenmare were left hanging recently when the hills on the west side of the Upper Des Lacs Lake started falling down. Literally.

5/25/11 (Wed)


The Canadian Pacific Railway tracks northwest of Kenmare were left hanging recently when the hills on the west side of the Upper Des Lacs Lake started falling down.




According to Kelly Hogan, project leader for the Souris River Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the hills directly above the Boat Dock Road have slumped in several locations in recent weeks, moving the rail lines up to six inches in some places. Hogan said any shift more than three inches causes problems for train operations.


In some cases, the rails were left suspended in the air.


The most serious incident occurred May 14th, and CP Railway officials made the decision to start repairs immediately.


“We suspended operations on the track for the past week to shore up the sub-strata of the track,” said Mike LoVecchio, CP Railway spokesperson, “and we started running trains again Saturday morning. As the slope itself was shifting, it actually shifted the tracks. We’ve had to realign the tracks and underpin them.”


Hogan said the railroad moved the lines five feet to the west of the current route through the affected region. “Now, they’re trying to stabilize that ground,” he added.


Tim Harris of Harris Construction in Kenmare knows all about the challenges of that process, with 10 to 12 of the company’s trucks hauling dirt to the site.


Strata Corporation of Minot and Ames Construction, Inc., also have equipment working on the project. “Some days, we have up 30 trucks out there,” Harris said. The drivers have been hauling dirt every day for the past two weeks, as allowed by the rainy weather.


The contractors are rebuilding the hills, with four excavators from Harris and two apiece from Ames and Strata on the job, along with four or five bulldozers and five off-road trucks. “We got the slide area bladed out by Friday night,” Harris said. “We fixed a slide in the same area about seven years ago, and used scrapers and dozers then.”


However, six additional slide areas still need stabilizing this spring, and Harris believes more slumping could occur. “The old coal veins are there, and there’s so much water,” he said.


LoVecchio said CP Railway engineers based in Minot and Minneapolis were overseeing the project. “It’s a very dynamic situation and we want a permanent fix,” he added. “This requires ongoing monitoring, so the public will continue to see a battalion of construction vehicles in town right now.”


Slumping is no surprise

Neither Hogan nor Harris was surprised at the situation. The year 2010 ended with a moisture total of 25.13 inches at the Des Lacs NWR, with 6.98 of that coming since September. By the time the hillsides started their descent toward the valley floor in the middle of May, another 6.87 inches of precipitation were measured for the area.


“Everything is just so saturated,” said Hogan, adding that drivers on U.S. Highway 52 heading southeast of Carpio will see several slumped hillsides as they travel.


Hillsides west of Donnybrook along the highway also show many instances of sliding terrain.


The Boat Dock Road itself is covered by four or five feet of soil from a slumping hillside in a location independent of the railway’s repair site. Hogan noted the road is closed to the public.


“I don’t think they’d want to be on it anyway,” he said. “There’s water covering the road in one spot and the rest is wet and muddy, and there are trucks going in and out, with railroad employees and contractors.”


Hogan did not predict when the Boat Dock Road would open to the public again.


Harris expected the stabilizing work to continue for another two to four weeks, depending on the weather and other potential slides. Clean-up operations at the site will take place through the summer, with clay, mud and debris from trees and other vegetation to be hauled away.


With so many semi-trucks driving back and forth to the refuge, Harris asked Kenmare residents to be cautious, especially when approaching Ward County Road 1 (6th Street) because the trucks use that road through town.


Rail line through refuge is key piece of infrastructure

Hogan said the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and CP Railway have been cooperating to fix the immediate slumping problems and come to a long-term solution.


Although the rail lines are within the refuge boundaries, CP Railway owns a few segments of property and has federally-granted rights-of-way for the rest. “One of the things we’re trying to do is find out just what is owned by the railroad and what is right-of-way,” Hogan said. “This may involve some sort of land exchange.”


He noted the refuge’s Scenic Tour Route actually crosses the railroad’s right-of-way in places. A land exchange made because of the current slumping damage could resolve other property issues between the two entities.


Hogan was pleased at the level of cooperation evident in the situation. The repair work is taking place under special use permits granted by the USFWS, and CP Railway executives and engineers are assessing and monitoring the site. “CP Rail is watching this pretty closely,” said Hogan.


“We expect to have a near round-the-clock presence on the site for the next couple of weeks,” said LoVecchio.


He agreed with Hogan that the two entities were coordinating the repair work successfully. “We have a long-standing relationship with the refuge, and it’s always been a positive one,” he said. “The key is communication, and it’s always been there. We appreciate that.”


LoVecchio listed the safety of CP Railway employees and of the community as two significant considerations in the project, as well as the proximity of the rail line to the refuge. “We’re going to work to ensure continued safe operations,” he said, “as well as minimize impact to the environment. Any disturbance created will be mitigated and managed on an on-going basis.”


He described the affected section as the mainline track from Chicago to points on the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada. “That’s a key piece of infrastructure,” he said, “and we want to keep it in service.”