Railroads & Locomotives Railroad Profiles Short Lines Northern Lines Railway profile

Northern Lines Railway profile

By | January 30, 2023

Northern Lines Railway is a short line railroad operating in central Minnesota on a route shaped like a giant letter “Y".

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Northern Lines Railway logo

Northern Lines Railway logoNorthern Lines Railway summary

The Northern Lines Railway (NLR) is a short line railroad that operates in central Minnesota. Although under BNSF Railway’s ownership, the line is operated by Anacostia Rail Holdings Company. At 17 miles of standard-gauge track, the route is set up as a giant letter “Y” in an east-to-west direction from the St. Cloud, Minn.-area.


The Northern Lines Railway makes up a section of the former Great Northern Railway secondary main line from St. Cloud to Fergus Falls and Moorhead. The branch lines took trains east to Brook Park with a connection to Duluth, and southwest to the division point of Willmar. Burlington Northern took over in 1970, and five years later began cutting back the lines through sales and abandonment. By 2005, only the section to St. Joseph and Rockville remained in active service in the hands of BN’s successor, BNSF. Anacostia has since maintained an operating lease agreement with the Class I railroad over the Northern Lines, with the name serving as a reference to the history and legacy of the ex-GN.


The Northern Lines Railway serves approximately 20 customers in the St. Cloud area with access to Interstate 94. The primary businesses are agriculture, stone/minerals, chemicals, lumber, construction material, polymers, paper products, and steel and metals. One leg of the “Y” heads 7 miles west to St. Joseph serving Borgert Products Incorporated, the makers of concrete pavers and other concrete products. The other leg is the Rockville Branch that extends 7 miles southwest from a connection with the St. Joseph line to Rockville. Customers on the line include a propane terminal operated by Wenner Gas Company in Rockville, and Martin Marietta Materials’ aggregate quarry in Waite Park which provides ballast for the BNSF’s track projects.

Leased EMD GP7 and GP9 rebuilt diesel locomotives were the initial roster of the Northern Lines’ startup in 2005. By 2019, GP15-1s were pressed into service as the main motive power. The painted Cascade Green serves as a tribute to the ex-Burlington Northern that once operated the line.

Interchanges with the BNSF’s northern transcontinental main line at St. Cloud Yard have been beneficial towards the success and growth of the Northern Lines. The Class I railroad retains pricing authority while the short line receives a per-car fee.

Read more about the Northern Lines Railway in Trains’ April 2021 issue.

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