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Freight Rail in Minnesota

Freight rail makes up an important component of Minnesota’s freight shipping network. The volume of goods being shipped on Minnesota’s rails has reflected ebbs and flows in the state’s economy — as the recent economic recession deepened, fewer goods were shipped on Minnesota’s rails. Today, thanks to a widespread economic recovery in Minnesota, freight rail shipments have increased to pre-recession levels and are projected to continue growing into the future.1 Cereal grains and metallic ores make up the majority of tons shipped on Minnesota’s rails, and are projected to continue to be the most frequently shipped product on the state’s rail system.2

Heightened scrutiny has been placed on Minnesota’s railroads as the oil boom in North Dakota’s Bakken region has led to increased shipments of crude oil on railroads throughout the country. While preparedness and an understanding of the risks associated with this activity are important, it must be said that oil shipments make up a very small portion of the total tonnage shipped on Minnesota’s rails and are not the most hazardous material shipped by railroads. The map in Figure 3 shows rail routes used for shipping Bakken crude oil in Minnesota.3 There are a total of 743 at grade crossings along routes that carry crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields.

Figure 1: Rail routes carrying crude oil from Canada and North Dakota

Map of rail routes carrying crude oil from Canada and North Dakota

1. American Association of Railroads, 2015
2. Freight Analysis Framework, 2010
3. MnDOT Office of Freight & Commercial Vehicle Operations

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