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The Empire Builder sits at a stop in a Minnesota town in this undated file photo.

Amtrak's detours Empire Builder passenger train passing through region this afternoon

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By Kelly Boldan

WILLMAR - Amtrak’s Empire Builder train riders are getting a major detour through west central Minnesota today due to a freight train derailment in Elk River.

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An Amtrak spokesman confirmed Friday afternoon that the Empire Builder has been detoured today along BNSF Railway tracks through west central Minnesota, traveling a southerly route from Fargo through Breckenridge-Morris-Willmar-Litchfield to Minneapolis.

As of about 2:30 p.m., the Empire Builder was traveling about 40 miles per hours and was between Morris and Hancock. As of 3:03 p.m., the passenger train passed through Benson. The train stopped briefly in Willmar about 3:50 p.m.

The Empire Builder’s normal route is from Fargo, N.D., through Detroit Lakes-Wadena-Staples-St. Cloud to Minneapolis.

The spokesman said a decision has not been made on the next Empire Builder run yet.

Passengers traveling aboard Empire Builder trains have encountered significant

delays in recent months due to very high volumes of freight train traffic along the route. During the previous weeks in May and June, delays averaged between three and five hours. Amtrak has advised that passengers should anticipate delays in both directions.

Roughly 16 empty freight cars jumped their tracks between Big Lake and Ramsey shortly after 2 a.m., according to BNSF Railway spokeswoman Amy McBeth.

There were no injuries.

Northstar commuter rail was canceled Friday morning after the freight train derailed and blocked the tracks.

Crews are working to clear the tracks, but it's unclear when rail traffic will be restored.

Metro Transit is advising Northstar commuters to find other means of travel, according to Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland.

Limited replacement bus service will be available, but they do not have the capacity of trains. Buses will also take "significantly" longer and will not run on a regular schedule, Siqveland said.

Buses will link St. Cloud to Big Lake and Elk River, where customers can catch Metro Transit buses. Ramsey, Anoka, Coon Rapids and Fridley will also have limited replacement bus service, according to Metro Transit.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service partner, contributed to this story.

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Kelly Boldan
Kelly Boldan has been the editor of the West Central Tribune of Willmar, since joining the newspaper in October 2001. He has previously worked as the editor at the Bemidji Pioneer, also part of Forum Communications Co., and other daily newspapers, online Web sites, and weekly agriculture newspapers in Wisconsin, Texas and Minnesota. You can follow via Twitter at @KellyBoldanWCT or read about the Tribune's newsroom blog at: insidescoop.areavoices.com or the Tribune's blog at: westcentraltribune.areavoices.com.
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