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Research Projects (1999-00)

Identifying Number


Project Title

Biennial Strategic Transportation Analysis


North Dakota State University

Project Investigator

Gene Griffin
Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, NDSU

External Project Contact


Project Objective

Four major trends are impacting agricultural shippers, short-line railroads, and transportation infrastructure in North Dakota and Region 8. They are:

  1. grain shuttle trains,
  2. 286,000-pound rail cars,
  3. location of value-added processing in production regions, and
  4. limited intermodal facilities and services.

The objective of the project is to inform public and private-sector decision-makers about the benefits, impacts, and issues associated with these trends, and identify strategic options for shippers, industries, and state agencies.

Project Abstract

Freight transportation is vital to the economies of North Dakota and Region 8. The value of freight transportation services will only increase in the 21st Century, as national and global trends affect trade and economic development in the region. In addition to these broad changes, railroad strategies and technology are impacting rural shippers and communities. Class I carriers are introducing 104-110 car shuttle train service for grain. At the same time, they are deploying 286,000-pound cars in grain service and evaluating the future potential of 315,000-pound cars. Collectively, these changes will impact the viability of branch lines and short line railroads and reduce the number of grain shipping stations in North Dakota and the region. Three related trends - continued rail-line abandonment, concentration of the Class I railroad industry, and growth of value-added processing -will also impact future transportation and logistical systems. Four overarching trends/issues will be investigated in this study:

  1. implementation of grain shuttle train rates and services;
  2. use of heavier rail cars on branch lines and short line railroads,
  3. future adequacy and availability of intermodal services,
  4. optimal locations for value added agricultural processors.

Task Descriptions

Meet with the grain industry, state agencies, railroads, and other affected parties to gain insights about the mega-trends and potential reactions of stakeholders. Evaluate the impacts of grain shuttle trains on transportation and logistical systems and grain elevator location patterns.

  1. Overview grain procurement networks and procedures.
  2. Outline potential influences of shuttle train rates on existing grain procurement networks.
  3. Describe alternative network scenarios to be used in assessing the results of increased shuttle train usage by the grain industry.
  4. Discuss the long-term implications of shuttle trains for North Dakota's grain industry, infrastructure and rural communities.
  5. Discuss implications for other parts of the region. Evaluate the impacts of large 286,000 rail cars on grain shippers, short line railroads, and public transportation infrastructure.
  6. Review literature related to rail infrastructure and its ability to handle 286,000-pound cars. The review will include literature showing impacts of larger cars on operating speeds and maintenance costs, and costs associated with upgrading lines to handle larger cars.
  7. Visit short-line operators in North Dakota and discuss the issues associated with upgrading rail lines to handle larger rail cars.
  8. Examine rail infrastructure in North Dakota, and using the information obtained from the review of literature and from discussions with short lines, identify lines that are most likely to be impacted by the shift to larger cars.
  9. Quantify the impacts of rail abandonment (highway impacts, shipper costs, secondary economic costs) for various classes of rail line being impacted by the shift to larger cars. These impacts will be assessed in a case study fashion, for different types of rail line.
  10. Compare the generalized costs of upgrading different types of rail lines to the impacts of abandonment, and identify the types of lines where state or community investment may be warranted.
  11. Discuss implications for other parts of the region. Evaluate factors affecting the optimal location of value added processors and illustrate these concepts with a case study.
  12. Review literature examining the important factors influencing facility location.
  13. Develop hypothetical case studies of value-added agricultural processing facilities. The case studies will reflect value-added products that have different raw materials needs, different markets, and different packaging requirements. Use locational theories to examine the relative importance of different locational factors in determining the likely success of the operations.
  14. Within the framework of logistical decision-making, use locational theories to select optimal locations for the case study operations. Compare the locations to choosing arbitrary locations, and compare the locations for different types of value-added products.
  15. Attempt to quantify the impacts of choosing sub-optimal locations for different types of value-added processing ventures in terms of total logistics costs, including inbound and outbound transportation costs, land costs, labor costs, and others.
  16. Highlight the varying importance of different locational factors for different types of value-added processing ventures.
  17. Discuss implications for other parts of the region. Evaluate intermodal services, facilities, usage and potential for future shipment of agricultural and other products. Prepare comprehensive project report.
  18. Disseminate information
  19. Hold seminars and workshops for NDDOT, shippers, short line railroads and other state agencies.
  20. Hold a regional conference for other states in Region 8
  21. Deliver seminars via TEL8

Milestones, Dates

  • Starting Date: November 1, 1999
  • Project Milestones:
    • A meeting of major stakeholders to discuss approaches, issues, and data -December 1, 1999
    • Working papers on the four mega-trends are distributed to select stakeholders for review and feedback - November 1, 2000
    • Workshop for ND groups - November 20, 2000
    • Draft report - December 15, 2000
    • TEL8 seminar - December 15, 2000
    • Regional conference - January 30, 2001
    • Final report - February 20, 2001
  • Ending Date: March 1, 2001

Yearly and Total Budget


Student Involvement


Relationship to Other Research Projects


Technology Transfer Activities

Valuable information will be made available to agribusiness, short-line railroads, motor carriers, and transportation agencies through workshops and conferences. A TEL8 seminar will be scheduled for universities and state transportation departments.

Potential Benefits of the Project

Information generated from the project will be useful to shippers, grain companies, short-line railroads, state transportation departments and other agencies for purposes of making policy and investment decisions. The information should improve the cost-effectiveness of transportation infrastructure policies and investments; improve location and investment planning for elevators, processing plants and other grain facilities; improved planning and investment analysis by short line railroads; and provide useful information for agricultural processors.

TRB Keywords

Agricultural, roads, planning, traffic

NDSU Dept 2880P.O. Box 6050Fargo, ND 58108-6050