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A mother and three children de-board the re-routed Empire Builder at Willmar at 4 p.m. Friday. Angie Moore, with Will, 11, Abbie, 10, and Allissa, 4, had departed Seattle 48 hours earlier. Friends were driving up from southern Minnesota to pick them up. Conductor Tom Fracassi said a derailment near Elk River would add about 12 hours to the route. Amtrak service through Willmar ended in 1980. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

Freight derailment forces Amtrak detour

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WILLMAR — Amtrak’s Empire Builder train riders Friday got a major detour through west central Minnesota due to a freight train derailment on BNSF Railway tracks near Elk River.

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

The Empire Builder rolled through Morris about 2:15 p.m., Benson about 3 p.m. and stopped in Willmar about 3:50 p.m. It then rolled east about 4 p.m. headed for Litchfield.

The Empire Builder’s normal route is from Fargo through Detroit Lakes-Wadena-Staples-St. Cloud to Minneapolis. Regular Amtrak service through Willmar ended in 1980.

Rob Kortum of Spring Park was driving near Hancock Friday afternoon when he spotted the Empire Builder.

“The train had three private cars, including a dome car, on the end of the Amtrak train,” he said.

The train stopped in Willmar where an unnamed railroad engineer and a Fairmont family de-boarded. Angie Moore and her children, Will, 11, Abbie, 10, and Allissa, 4, had departed Seattle 48 hours earlier. Friends were driving from Fairmont to pick them up.

Amtrak Conductor Tom Fracassi said the derailment near Elk River would add about 12 hours to Empire Builder’s schedule Friday.

Kortum followed the train all afternoon along U.S. Highway 12 as he enjoys trains.

“The train traveled about 45 mph through Willmar,” he said. “Then the train traveled about 60 mph.”

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 were working to clear the tracks Friday, but it was unclear when rail traffic would be restored.

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

Limited replacement bus service was made available, but buses do not have the capacity of trains. Buses also take “significantly” longer and will not run on a regular schedule, Siqveland said.

The Metro Transit web site reported Friday evening that the Northstar line would operate Saturday and Sunday along its route, in conjunction with the grand opening Saturday of the Metro’s Green Line from Minneapolis to St. Paul.

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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