Pulling for You
Like all railroads, our ability to serve customers and efficiently operate our trains is determined by the nature of our locomotive fleet. At NPR, our current 22-unit fleet includes “first, second, and third generation” locomotives, from the oldest, a 1952 built GP-7 that operated on the old Rock Island Railroad, to five much more modern SD60Fs that were purchased by Canadian National in 1989.
“Our philosophy is fairly simple,” says Brent Bader, General Manager Mechanical Services. “We have assembled a fleet that matches the service on our lines. With the light rail on the Bisbee Subdivision and the Devils Lake west, our four-axle Geeps continue as an economic option. For running longer trains from Fordville east to Thief River Falls, the WEX-CN units have been excellent, and even make the odd trip on CP to help move traffic efficiently.”
For servicing, fueling, and the inspections required on each locomotive, which includes a daily inspection prior to the locomotive being dispatched, NPR maintains a locomotive shop at Fordville next to the site of the former SOO Line roundhouse. The five SD60Fs are based here, as well as eight four-axle units, including the veteran GP-7, GP-9s, and a GP-38AC. “(Chairman) Gregg has always been fond of the GP-9s,” says Brent. “That’s one of the reasons we picked the 2283 as our 25th-anniversary locomotive this past year. Truly, these have been reliable units, and easy to maintain. However, we’re convincing him that as time goes on, we need to continue to upgrade our fleet – hence bringing in newer and more modern power over the last five years.”
To keep the locomotives serviceable, detailed inspections are conducted every 45 and 90 days on each unit, where safety and mechanical considerations are checked, repairs made, and issues identified. “We maintain our locomotives to the same standard that you would find at a larger class 1 railway,” says Brent. “It is, I suppose, a bit like stepping back in time though, as you’d be hard pressed to find many GP-9s in a CPR shop, for example, these days.”
At Fordville, NPR has also performed “last rites” on locomotives whose time is up. “We started a dismantling program with CN a few years back that was very successful for both us and CN – assisting with CN’s asset utilization and optimization goals. Since then, we have worked with CP and another customer on scrapping units, retaining quality parts and equipment for the client,” adds Brent.
At Lansford, ND, NPR maintains its contract locomotive services center. “Lansford is where we maintain nine locomotives for NPR service, but there is also a constant parade of third-party locomotives coming in and out of the shop for upgrading, repairs, or painting,” remarks Jesse J. Chalich, President and Chief Operating Officer. “Lansford is close to Minot and a good labor and expertise pool, and we have good rail service over NPR to our interchange with CP at Kenmare to meet customer needs. We now have customers who use this facility from all over the mid-west and western Canada.”
To meet the needs of industrial switching clients, NPR owns a further fleet of 15 units that are placed at customer plants from southern Minnesota to northern Alberta. “We’ve also gotten into a niche market in the locomotive leasing business, and with our strong ties to the agricultural industry we continually supply more locomotives every year, especially at expanding elevators and new plants,” says Jesse.
In 2022, Northern Plains was very pleased to provide locomotives to four new customers, the most recent being an SD-40-2 upgraded at Fordville and sent to Parrish & Heimbecker Limited for their state-of-the-art new grain elevator located at Yorkton, Saskatchewan. In addition to our own fleet, NP provided servicing to customer-owned locomotives at more than 70 locations across Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.
“As our list of locomotive partnerships continues to grow, customers can count on us to simply deliver a quality product, offer our expertise, and where we can, provide onsite servicing and maintenance,” says Jesse. “As a railroad, we know the importance of reliable locomotives – and we can relate to the mechanical and weather issues faced by operators in both the short line and industrial sectors.” Locomotives are foundational in the railroad business.
At Northern Plains, they are and will remain a critical part of what we do.