Railroads & Locomotives Railroad Profiles Short Lines Yellowstone Valley Railroad profile

Yellowstone Valley Railroad profile

By | January 27, 2023

The Yellowstone Valley Railroad is a short line railroad operating in North Dakota and Montana that specializes in crude oil haulage.

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Yellowstone Valley Railroad logo

Yellowstone Valley Railroad logoYellowstone Valley Railroad summary

The Yellowstone Valley Railroad (YSVR) is a short line railroad that operates in North Dakota and Montana. The line is owned by BNSF Railway and leased to Watco under an operating agreement. The shipment of crude oil is a principal commodity in freight traffic for the short line based out of Dore, N.D.


The line of the Yellowstone Valley Railroad was built in the early 1900s by the former Great Northern Railway as part of an east-west alternative to the Empire Builder route by the way of Havre, Mont., but was never completed. BNSF, the successor to the ex-GN, leased it to Watco in 2005 to form the YSVR. With the mindset of expansion on an organic basis, Watco acquired the short line with the original intention of continual freight haulage of grain and sugar. Barely two years into the lease, drillers in the nearby Bakken oil field contacted the company regarding a location close to the railroad to load tank cars of crude oil. The Yellowstone Valley hasn’t looked back since.


Freight traffic on the Yellowstone Valley Railroad includes natural gas, crude oil, frac sand, and agriculture products. Working with the Bakken oil field resulted in the shipment of crude oil across five states under partnerships with BNSF, the Union Pacific Railroad, and Houston’s Port Terminal Railroad Association. From their oil transloading facility at Dore, the YSVR has tank cars loaded and shipped to Watco’s other customers at Yaggy and Coffeyville, Kansas; and Stroud, Oklahoma.

As part of one of the largest companies in shortline operations, Yellowstone Valley uses Watco’s roster pool of vast diesel locomotives. Many units on the railroad carry the company’s black-and-yellow color scheme.

Interchange is made with BNSF in Dore with Yellowstone Valley’s transloading facility 10 miles away. The partnership between the short line and Class I railroad fulfills BNSF’s goal of concentrating on high-density, long-haul traffic while the YSVR handles the local distributions.

Read more about the Yellowstone Valley Railroad in Trains’ June 2009 issue.

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