Hoeven Works For Long-Term Solution To Protect Devils Lake Basin Rail Line From Rising Waters

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today worked to build consensus for funding infrastructure investments that would safely allow the Empire Builder rail line to continue operating in spite of rising waters in the Devils Lake Basin. Hoeven met with Devils Lake rail stakeholders and pushed for a cost-sharing approach to fund plans to raise the track and bridges, as well as make other necessary upgrades.  

Attending the meeting along with Hoeven were Senator Kent Conrad; Congressman Rick Berg; Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo; Governor Jack Dalrymple; North Dakota Department of Transportation Director Frances Ziegler; Devils Lake Mayor Richard Johnson; Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown; Ramsey County Commission Chair Joe Belford; Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman; and BNSF Railway Chairman and CEO Matt Rose.

The Devils Lake rail project is expected to cost $97.4 million and Hoeven has been advocating to fund the project using a cost-share approach with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway, the owner of the rail line; Amtrak, the rail operator; and the state and federal government. At the meeting, BNSF and Amtrak each agreed to pay one-third of the costs for the rail project. 

Hoeven, the congressional delegation and Governor Dalrymple are working to identify funding sources at the U.S Department of Transportation and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help cover the remaining one-third in costs.  

In the short term, BNSF committed to invest $2.5 million in temporary flood protections—primarily riprap to protect against wave action—to ensure rail operations continue while work can be completed on a long-term plan to raise the track and bridges and complete other upgrades.  

“We’ve got to keep this rail line going,” said Hoeven. “We need partnerships to do so, and I’m pleased that this project is headed in that direction with today’s commitments from BNSF and Amtrak. I’ll continue working, along with Senator Conrad, Congressman Berg and the Governor to find federal and state resources to raise the rail line and bridges.  

“We need to keep in mind that the real solution long-term is to move more water out of Devils Lake, not just for the rail line but for all our flooding challenges.  At the same time, we’ll continue working to push this project forward to ensure rail access continues in North Dakota,” said Hoeven.  

Hoeven DL Rail Mtg