State of U.S. Passenger Rail – North Dakota

The rise of Bakken oil shale has been a blessing and a curse for Amtrak ridership in North Dakota. It caused ridership to increase in a big way in 2012 when people were flooding into Williston looking for jobs in the oil shale industry. But then people who got those jobs were successful in getting oil, and when the oil came, it was shipped out via rail, clogging the existing tracks and delaying the Empire Builder, North Dakota’s sole train route, which serves seven stations across the state. The delays, in turn, had a dampening effect on ridership. The charts that follow show this trend playing out over time. This line graph probably does the best job at showing the trend.

With oil jobs flooding into western North Dakota, ridership at Williston surged from 29,920 in 2011, already at a recent high, to 54,324 in 2012, an increase of 82% in just one year’s time. It’s less apparent given the scale, but the same surge took place at neighboring Stanley, which leapfrogged two stations and lost its position as the quietest station in the state. Over the dozen years covered in the graph, Williston is up 172%, Stanley is up 163%, Fargo is up 68%, Minot, traditionally the busiest station in the state, is up 29%, Grand Forks is up 9%, Rugby is down 18% and Devils Lake is down 25%. This next stacked column graph shows the aggregate effect of all the changes for the state as a whole.

As of 2014, North Dakota ridership is up 59%, making it the 19th fastest growing state in the United States over that time period. Now let’s see how the stations compare to one another in the following pie chart.

As of 2014, Williston was the busiest station in the state, having assumed that title in 2012 from Minot. It served one third of the state’s passengers. Minot served 27%. Fargo, 18%; Grand Forks, 11%; Stanley, 5%; and Rugby and Devils Lake each served 3%.

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