Busy border rail line reopens after bridge fire

Cars on fire on a Canadian National Railway train.
Firefighters used boats and hoses to spray water and foam from land and the Rat Root River to extinguish the fire.
Laurel Beager | International Falls Journal

Trains are moving again along an important rail line between Canada and Chicago.

A timber rail bridge spanning the Rat Root River south of International Falls burned to the water line last Wednesday, shutting down the busy Canadian National line.

Just before midnight Friday, less than three days after the collapse a temporary structure was completed according to Koochiching County Sheriff Perryn Hedlund.

"It quickly went from a disaster scene to a construction site," he said.

Jim Biersach, whose Border Boatworks in the small community of Ericsburg is within sight of the charred bridge, said trains began rolling slowly over a temporary structure early Saturday morning.

"It's a busy busy place right now," he said.

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Beginning almost immediately after the fire on the original timber bridge was extinguished, he said, crews arrived with heavy machinery.

Crews laid down huge culvert pipes to allow the Rat Root to flow, then poured in crushed rock from a local mine pit to build up a bypass route just west of the old bridge.

For three full days, dozens of dump trucks lined the shoulder of Highway 53. At night the area was lit with flood lights.

"It was like day in my front yard," Biersach said.

With the temporary structure complete, the work has just begun. Biersach said Monday morning that he could hear pounding as crews sunk steel beams down into the river, trying to find bedrock. He could see a crane arm moving high above the tree line.

Once the permanent bridge is completed, Hedlund said the temporary structure will have to be removed. Canadian National officials did not return calls for comment on the project.