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Minnesota Short Line Railroads

Published: April 24, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Cloquet Terminal Railroad

(reporting mark, CTRR):  This short line has been in service since 2002, formerly known as the Duluth & Northeastern Railroad, and provides switching services for the large Sappi paper mill and a few other customers in Cloquet.  The road operates about 6 miles of track and interchanges with BNSF and Canadian Pacific.

Ellis & Eastern Railroad

(reporting mark, EE):  Best known for its operations in South Dakota, this short line expanded service into Minnesota in 2017 by acquiring the Minnesota Southern Railway which operated between Manley and Agate, Minnesota.

Interchange is provided with BNSF at Manley and Union Pacific at Agate.  In all, there are about 41 miles in use.  The property was shed by C&NW in 1988, acquired by the Buffalo Ridge Regional Railroad Authority, and operated by Nobles Rock Railroad until 2000 when the Minnesota Southern took over service.

Minnesota Commercial Railway

(reporting mark, MNRR):  The Minnesota Commercial has been in operation since 1987 over what was formerly the Minnesota Transfer, a system dating back to 1883.  Today, the system operates nearly 150 miles of railroad in the Twin Cities with traffic including lumber, steel, paper, potash, consumer goods, and agricultural products.

Minnesota, Dakota & Western Railway

(reporting mark, MDW):  This short line dates back to 1910 and currently operates about 4 miles of trackage serving paper mills in International Falls, Minnesota and Fort Frances, Ontario.  It handles more than 10,000 carloads annually.

Minnesota Northern Railroad

(reporting mark, MNN): This large short line operates more than 200 miles of track in the western areas of the state connecting with Class Is BNSF and CP.  

The history of its trackage traces back to the Great Northern and Northern Pacific, spun-off by then-Burlington Northern & Santa Fe in 1996.  Today, its freight is largely comprised of agricultural products.

Northern Plains Railroad

(reporting mark, NPR): This privately-owned, short line railroad is mostly concentrated in North Dakota, leasing nearly 400 miles of track from carriers such as Canadian Pacific and Mohall Central Railroad.  The history of its properties traces back to the Soo, GN, and NP.  Its traffic consists primarily of agricultural products and it handles about 17,000 carloads annually.

Minnesota Prairie Line

(reporting mark, MPLI): The MPL is a subsidiary of the Twin Cities & Western operating nearly 100 miles of track between Granite Falls and Hamburg.  The line is owned by the Minnesota Valley Regional Railroad Authority and its history traces back to the Minneapolis & St. Louis, later acquired by the C&NW.

Northern Lines Railway

(reporting mark, NLR): This rather small shortline is owned by Anacostia & Pacific operating about 25 miles of track between St. Cloud and Cold Spring with a branch to St. Joseph.  The road began service in 2004 over former BNSF trackage and currently handles about 10,000 carloads annually including aggregates, building products, chemicals, coal, food products, lumber, manufactured goods, paper, scrap, and steel.

Otter Tail Valley Railroad

(reporting mark, OTVR): This short line is part of G&W's large family of railroads operating about 81 miles of track between Fargo and Fergus Falls, with a westerly extension running from the latter town.  The history of the property dates back to the Great Northern, acquired from then-BN in 1986.  Its traffic consists of ethanol, corn, soybeans, and inbound coal.

Progressive Rail, Inc.

(reporting mark, PGR): Progressive Rail operates trackage in three different states and takes its paint scheme from the historic Minneapolis, Northfield & Southern Railway, also known as The Dan Patch Line (whose former trackage it also operates).   The road began service in 1996 over trackage in the Twin Cities and region and currently handles freight ranging from agriculture to chemicals.

Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad

(reporting mark, RCPE):  This Genesee & Wyoming property began operation in 2014 when in picked up 670 miles of former Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern trackage between  Tracy, Minnesota, and Rapid City, South Dakota. 

It also maintains branches north to Colony, Wyoming and south to Dakota Junction, Nebraska.  Finally, trackage rights also provides access to Aberdeen, South Dakota.  The railroad handles tens of thousands of carloads annually.

Red River Valley & Western Railroad

(reporting mark, RRVW):  Under common ownership with the Twin Cities & Western, the RRV&W is a 600+ mile regional operating former Burlington Northern trackage mostly located in North Dakota northwest of Wahpeton with lines stretching into extreme western Minnesota.  The road began service in 1987 and its traffic base is very diversified.


St. Croix Valley Railroad

(reporting mark, SCXY): This privately-owned railroad operates about 36 miles of track between Hinkley and North Branch.  The system began service in 1996 and was once owned by RailAmerica. 

It currently operates trackage once owned by the Northern Pacific as part of its larger, "Skally Line."  Its traffic currently consists of chemicals, grain, flour, sand, and fertilizers moving about 4,000 carloads annually.

Twin Cities & Western Railroad

(reporting mark, TCWR):  This independently-owned short line began service in 1991 acquiring the Soo Line's former Milwaukee Road main line west of the Twin Cities. 

Today, the carrier operates about 360 miles in all reaching Granite Falls, Minnesota and Sisseton, South Dakota via the Twin Cities.  Its current traffic base is highly diversified ranging from agriculture to transload services.