Train traffic to get busier in Alexandria

Railroads have gotten scrutinized for safety following Feb. 3 toxic spill in East Palestine, Ohio.

Photo of snow-covered train tracks that run through Alexandria.
The Canadian Pacific railroad tracks in Alexandria will get busier by 2027, according to records relating to a merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern Railway Company. (Karen Tolkkinen / Echo Press)

ALEXANDRIA — Train traffic in Douglas County will get busier in coming years due to a merger announced March 15 between Canadian Pacific Railroad and Kansas City South Railroad.

Canadian Pacific, which already owns the tracks that run through Forada, Alexandria, Carlos, Miltona, and Parkers Prairie, bought Kansas City South for a reported $18 billion.

In its Environmental Impact Statement, it reported that the train traffic on the line that runs through Douglas County would increase to 7.11 trains per day by 2027 with the merger. Without the merger, it would expect to run 4.52 trains per day.

Railroads received a flurry of attention following a toxic spill after a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3. While Canadian Pacific won't divulge the details of what it hauls, it says it serves the following markets: automotive, coal, energy, ethanol, fertilizer and potash, food products, forest products, grain, industrial products, intermodal containers, oversized and dimensional, sulphur and wind energy components.

Whether those train cars contain toxic chemicals like those that spilled in Ohio is unknown. Federal law restricts data that can be released for what it calls "high-hazard flammable trains," to protect railroads from foreign terrorists and domestic extremists.


Douglas County Emergency Manager Julie Anderson cited that law in explaining why the county does not make public the materials that go through the county by rail. It does have that information, she said, adding that the law prevents sharing the information with any "unauthorized person." She did say that Canadian crude oil passes through the county on rail, as does Bakken oil.

She said hazardous materials pass through the county all the time — not just by rail, but on the highways and through pipelines.

“There’s a lot of different products that are being carried in various capacities in Douglas County all the time,” she said. “There are a variety of hazardous materials being carried through all the time.”

Julie Anderson

Emergency responders are trained in responding to various scenarios in cooperation with Canadian Pacific, she said.

Trains have derailed in Douglas County in the past.

In 2019, 10 Canadian Pacific Railway cars derailed south of Carlos. The train was carrying grain and potash and no hazardous materials were involved, the company told the Echo Press.

Train derailment
A train about a mile long derailed near Parkers Prairie in 2013. Fourteen tanker railcars left the track, three of them rupturing. No injuries were reported. (Contributed photo courtesy of Dee Sjobeck)

In 2013, 14 Canadian Pacific train cars derailed near Parkers Prairie, spilling 20,000-30,000 gallons of crude oil onto frozen ground. Three tankers ruptured and either leaked oil or spilled oil. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said the ground water was not threatened. Crews were able to contain the spill.

In 1958, 48 box cars derailed at Nelson, ripping up tracks and sparking a fire when a car carrying potatoes burst into flames. Alexandria firefighters kept the fire from spreading.


In its decision approving the merger, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board praised Canadian Pacific's safety record, saying it has "the best safety record of any Class 1 railroad."

"It is important to underscore that rail is by far the safest means of transporting any freight, including hazardous materials," the board said in a news release. It said the merger will move 64,000 truckloads off the highways and onto rail, decreasing carbon emissions and reducing the risk of dangerous hazardous material spills.

The news release cited Bureau of Transportation Statistics that in 2022, trucks experienced 94% of all hazardous materials incidents while railroads experienced a little more than 1% of all hazardous materials incidents.

The line will now be called the Canadian Pacific Kansas City, CPKC, according to the Surface Transportation Board, the independent federal agency that approved the merger. The move will create the first railroad providing service spanning Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Canadian Pacific is the fifth-largest railroad in the United States and Kansas City Southern was the sixth-largest. Even with the merger, Canadian Pacific will remain the fifth-largest.

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994. Driven by curiosity and a desire to learn about the United States, Karen Tolkkinen has covered local news from Idaho to New Hampshire to Alabama and landing at the Echo Press in Alexandria in 2017.
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