Frac Sand Spawning Rail Boom in Barron Co.


Frac sand mining is being credited for a resurgence of railroads in Barron County. Nearly $40 million is being pumped in to ship sand out.

In the early 90’s the Union Pacific Railroad began limiting service on its line running from Cameron south to the Chippewa County Line. Shortly after Canadian national requested its tracks from Barron to Ladysmith to be taken out of service. The lines were quickly on their way to becoming recreational trails but then frac sand mining took the region by storm. Barron County Administrator Jeff French says a transit authority was formed to save 50 miles of tracks at a cost of around $16 million, $2 million of it from local taxpayers, “Barron County would have had to go out and borrow money from the state trust fund or issue bonds so we could keep these rail lines open.”

But thanks to the lure of frac sand hauling contracts, Canadian National is investing nearly $35 million to lay new track east from Barron and Progressive Rail, which leases from Union Pacific is spending $5 million to improve the line running north from Chippewa Falls. Jeff Plale is Wisconsin’s Commissioner of Railroads he says it’s a railroad boom, “Barron County is in a very enviable spot right now. You have two lines that converge there and the potential for economic development there is huge.”

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And Plale says it’s not just Barron County that’s seeing frac sand transforming railroads, even a line running through Madison is carrying the stuff, “Every corner or the state is seeing this and railroads are putting up a lot of investment and that’s not taxpayer money that’s private capital investment.”

It’s anticipated that around 6.5 million tons of frac sand could come out of Barron County in approximately 65,000 rail cars each year.