Twin Cities & Western wrapping up track project on Minnesota Prairie Line

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NorthShore Track crews work on installation of welded rail on the Minnesota Prairie Line between Winthrop and Gibbon, Minn., in August 2018. The project is scheduled for completion this year.
Bryant Kaden
GLENCOE, Minn. – The Twin Cities & Western Railroad plans to wrap up a track rebuilding project on its wholly-owned subsidiary Minnesota Prairie Line this year. The project is extending continuous welded rail from milepost 81.4, just west of Winthrop, to milepost 88.25, just east of Gibbon, on the former Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway line that once reached from Minneapolis to Watertown, S.D.

According to TC&W President Mark Wegner, the preponderance of the work was done last summer, the result of the Minnesota Valley Regional Railroad Authority obtaining $4 million in bonding authority in the 2017 Minnesota legislative session. Minnesota Prairie Line runs on track owned by the Authority. Tie and surfacing work were delayed last year due to early winter weather and had to be postponed until 2019. As warm weather finally arrives plans are to complete the work this year to wrap up the project.

Earlier, TC&W and the Authority extensively rebuilt the MPL from the junction with the TC&W main line at Norwood to Winthrop, site of the Heartland Corn Products Plant. Heartland produces ethanol, distiller’s dried grains with soluble, crude corn oil, and captures some CO2. At Gibbon the railroad serves the Central Region Cooperative grain elevator.

The railroad has a long history. The Minneapolis-Watertown line was built in the 1880s by the by the Minneapolis & St. Louis - Pacific Extension when M&StL was under Rock Island control, part of a plan by the two roads to reach the Pacific Coast by a northern route. Despite its designs to reach the Pacific, M&StL never made it past the Missouri River, ending at tiny LeBeau, S.D., in 1907. Passenger service between Minneapolis and Watertown ended on July 20, 1960.

The M&StL was purchased by Chicago & North Western on Nov. 1, 1960, and C&NW continued to operate the line until December 1983. The 94-mile line from Norwood to Hanley Falls was then purchased by the Minnesota Valley Regional Railroad Authority. It was operated by various short lines, including Minnesota Valley and Minnesota Central, from 1984 until it shut down in 2000. Minnesota Prairie Line began operating the line in 2002 when track conditions were extremely poor but has steadily upgraded and rebuilt the line ever since.

Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 is scheduled to pull an excursion for the Milwaukee Road Historical Association on the Minnesota Prairie Line to Winthrop on June 23.
Bryant Kaden

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