The street running trains of First Avenue in North East Brained haven’t made the trip up to the former paper mill in more than six years. The tracks and crossing remained as a reminder of this unique rail road. There are only a handful of street running trains in North America and after the deconstruction of the crossing at Washington Street this week there is one less.
BNSF manages the tracks that connect the Brainerd BN Shops with the former Potlach and Wausau paper mill site (now BIC) in North East Brainerd. The tracks go down the middle of First Avenue and supplied the mill with raw materials as well as a route to bring the once sought after coated paper from the Brainerd Mill to the world market. With the mill shuttered for many years there have not been trains on these tracks and the intersection at Washington Street was falling into disrepair. The intersection is on a major state trunk highway so the Minnesota Department of Transportation was also involved with the upkeep and maintenance of the crossing. As many motorists who travel that section of road everyday can tell you it was getting to be time to fix that crossing.
So it had come to a point were the crossing would need costly repairs or to be removed completely. The decision on the fate of the unique rail line fell between MNDOT and BNSF. Krista Rydberg with the District 3 MNDOT office in St. Cloud told us, “MNDOT and BNSF made the joint decision to remove the crossing due to the lack of need at the current time and because of increased maintenance needed to maintain it during the snow and ice season. MNDOT has an agreement with BNSF if the tracks are needed sometime in the future, the railroad crossing will be put back in.”
So whether this is so long or so long for now, the trains of First Avenue in Brainerd are relegated to our history. The following video is of the final train that made it’s way up 1st Ave in 2013.
One of the first things you may notice now that the crossing at Washington Street is gone and the crossing lights and rail road signs removed, buses and other traffic such as tankers no longer have to stop here holding up traffic. One less traffic hazard for the morning and afternoon school buses. Since the tracks that are remaining are not connected to a main line they are now “Exempt” and that sign has been added to the subsequent rail road signs up First Ave.