Summer and fall of 2017 kept Northern Plains Rail Services busy serving existing customers and building new relationships. From the Twin Cities region to Alberta’s Industrial Heartland—and at many points in between—NPRS equipment, locomotives, and personnel could be found working with world-class customers on planned projects and helping address everyday occurrences in the field. “Starting with a plan is important, but you have to be willing to be flexible in this business,” states Eric Berg, NPRS Chief Financial Officer. “While we always begin each year with a general idea of where our business may be—and how we will deploy our resources—things do not always go according to plan.”
This reality is not lost on NPRS leadership; it’s recognized that many times a customer’s need is a result of an emergency like a derailment, locomotive failure, or need to have an individual trained for safe performance of rail duties—immediately! Other times a customer request may come about as a result of a change in business cycles, or perhaps an adjustment in the commodity markets. “As railroaders, our people are used to the dynamics out there, and juggling priorities becomes an art at times,” says Jerry Hegstrom, leader of NPRS’ Complete Track Works division. “We do make every effort to accommodate our customers when situations arise, and sometimes we have to respond quickly—all the while protecting our ongoing projects and keeping safety our number one priority.” As a result, NPRS balances customer needs and relies on using the resources of its various business partners as well. “We’ve become better at it as time has gone on, and I’d like to think our customers appreciate this flexibility,” remarks Hegstrom.
The flexibility employed and managed by Hegstrom and this team has been evident in performing projects that included a major tie and surface program sponsored by Canadian Pacific on our own NPR “high line” east of Fordville; complete thermite welding on the Otter Tail Valley Railroad; a salvage operation on the BNSF near Cold Springs, MN; and perform work for valued “standby” customers such as American Crystal Sugar, Strata, and the Honeyford elevator. While executing these larger projects, the CTW team has also responded to derailments, run through switches, and handled normal “running repairs” for long-time customers who rely on NPRS for track inspection and maintenance services.
“Doing the right thing by the customer is always important to us,” says Berg. “With the valuable and expensive machinery that we employ such as track construction machinery, trucks, locomotives, and shop facilities—it is important for us to optimize our assets and resources in order to offer a good quality product in the marketplace at a competitive price.”
At times, this means NPRS companies banding together to complete a project, such as the CN locomotive salvage program that began in September. Drawing on a successful business relationship with CN in Edmonton and Winnipeg of dismantling locomotives and inventorying good reusable parts, NPRS was pleased to have CN request a similar service for parting out retired locomotives right on NPRS property at Fordville. “This time, however, there is an additional challenge for us, as we are also installing prime movers from the retired units into several of CN’s 5400 series locomotives. We were pleased to be one of several contract shops awarded this type of work,” says Brent Bader, leader of NPRS’ Locomotive Services division. “To complete the job and meet CN’s expectations, we’ve relied on contributions from our Fordville Car Repair staff, CNPRS, and even the Complete Track Works personnel. It’s a true team effort, and by doing so, we are showing that we can serve the overall railroad industry using our experience and assets here. It’s a source of pride, and we look forward to learning from these experiences.”