The Willmar Rail Connector and Industrial Park Access project, also known as Willmar Wye, involves the construction of a railway bypass, as well as the redevelopment of Highway 12 and Highway 40 in Willmar, Minnesota, US.

The project intends to provide an interconnection between Morris and Marshall subdivisions of the BNSF Railway freight rail network. It will also expand the existing rail capacity and improve the rail infrastructure in Willmar.

The new rail connection will be added between the existing BNSF railway lines, while the adjacent roadways will be upgraded for improved freight movement through Willmar City. Two new bridges will also be built as part of the project.

Estimated to cost $47m, the public-private partnership (PPP) project is being developed by the City of Willmar, Kandiyohi County, BNSF Railway, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

Willmar Rail Connector project details

BNSF operates the Willmar Terminal, which has no direct connection with the line between the Morris and Marshall subdivisions. The trains currently travelling between the subdivisions require repositioning of their locomotives and crews to traverse across Willmar, resulting in emissions and noise, as well as delays at railway crossings.

It necessitated the authorities to build new rail line bypass on the west side of Willmar and undertake the realignment of Highway 12 and renovation of Highway 40 to solve the issues.

Three railway alternatives, namely RR-1, RR-2, and RR-3 were considered for the analysis, before finalising the RR-3 alternative. The RR-1 alternative proposed a new line west of County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 55, while the RR-2 included a loop track east of Willmar Terminal and the third alternative proposed a new link east of CSAH 55.

With the addition of new rail link, trains will be able to travel between BNSF’s Morris and Marshall subdivisions without approaching downtown Wilmar and changing engines. The project also involves the construction of a rail spur to the Willmar industrial park.

Construction details

Construction on the project began with the realignment of Highway 12 and the reconstruction of state highway 40.

Two new bridges will be constructed for motor vehicle traffic across the rail line. The grading of a part of the new Highway 12 and construction of the embankments for new bridges were started in July 2019.

The roadway segment of the Willmar Wye project will be completed in 2021, while construction of the railway section will begin in 2021 for scheduled completion in 2022.

Financing

BNSF Railway funded $16m while MnDOT committed $17.5m to the project. The US Department of Transportation provided $10m through TIGER grant, while the project received $3.77m from the Local Road Improvement Programme.

Contractors involved in Willmar Rail Connector project

The Hoffman Team was selected as the design-build contractor for the road segment of the project in September 2019. The team members include Lunda Construction, Bolton & Menk, and Hoffman Construction.

BNSF is responsible for the final design and construction of the railway segment.

Willmar Rail Connector benefits

The Willmar Wye project will augment the reliability, accessibility, and efficiency of the entire transportation system of the state. It will also reduce emissions by minimising wait times for the clearance of crossings.

The project will also decrease the number of train journeys to and from downtown Willmar, resulting in reduced noise levels.

Further, it will reduce the journey times for the commuters and enhance safety for the travellers by minimising at-grade crossing exposure.