Saint Joseph to Fergus Falls

Point of Interest

(Forwarded from the Saint Paul & Pacific Railroad)

The St. Paul and Pacific Railroad had built from a main line from the east side of St. Cloud over the Mississippi River in the spring of 1872, and further built passenger and freight depots along with a rail yard with a roundhouse and other buildings on the northwestern area of downtown St. Cloud, MN.

In November of 1872 the tracks were completed through St. Joseph to Melrose. The tracks ended there until July 1878, when the line was completed to Sauk Centre, then to Alexandria in November 1878. In 1879 the railroad was changed to the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad. The tracks were completed to Fergus Falls and onto Moorhead in 1879 also.

Towns on the abandoned portion of the line:

  • St. Joseph
  • Collegeville
  • Avon
  • Albany
  • Freeport
  • Melrose
  • Sauk Centre
  • West Union
  • Osakis
  • Nelson
  • Alexandria
  • Garfield
  • Brandon
  • Evansville
  • Ashby
  • Dalton
  • Fergus Falls

In 1907 the Great Northern took control of the line; in 1970 the BN took control. In 1981 the BN abandoned Collegeville to Avon. They sold the segment between Avon to Barnesville via Fergus Falls to the Otter Tail Valley Western Railroad (OTCR) in 1986, who subsequently abandoned that segment in 1992 and ripped out the tracks from Avon to Fergus Falls, leaving all the bridges intact. BNSF abandoned St. Joseph to Collegeville in 2002.

The old rail grade was purchased by the MN DNR and is now a paved recreational trail from St. Joseph to Osakis. It also serves as the Wobegon Trail and from Osakis to Fergus Falls it is the Central Lakes Trail.

Thanks to Adam Jelinski for contributing information about this route.

Family History in RR

Fathers Side,

Father - Lyall Elmo Peterson - Union Pacific RR - Claims Adjuster Investigator, Los Angeles, CA and Omaha, NE

Grandfather - Carl Alfred Peterson - Great Northern & Red River RR, Station Manager, Alexandria, MN and Hinsdale, MT

Mothers Side,

Grandfather - David Carey - Union Pacific RR, Yard Foreman, Omaha, NE

Great Grandfather - David T McDonough - Union Pacific RR and Oregon Short Line RR, Architect and Design Engineer, Portland, OR

I live in Alexandria MN. In your article you stated that the Central Lakes Trail, the old rail grade was purchased by the MN DNR. I did further researched, I was told by MN/DOT when the line was removed (abandoned)it was acquired by the state of Minnesota and managed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation from the railroad. The line can be reopened in the event of need.

Example-Light rail linking Minneapolis to Fargo as a future plan. State Rail Bank – Acquire and preserve abandoned rail lines for future transportation

use or for current use as utility corridors.

Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight

and Passenger Rail Plan


6.2.2 Minnesota Rail Bank

Mn/DOT holds 214 miles of abandoned railroad right-of-way in a state rail bank program.

The banked property includes three significant segments that have been purchased

to preserve these routes in the public domain for future uses, rather than let them return to

contiguous land owners or nontransportation uses. The Rail Bank grants operating rights for

trails over much of this property, particularly to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

for recreational trails (165 of the total 214 miles). All of these properties have reversionary

rights enabled in Mn/DOT's ownership and usage agreements, allowing future return to rail

operations as needed. The roadbed and structures on these Minnesota Rail Bank properties are

maintained to railroad specifications to insure good condition for possible reuse. Although

these routes include some strategic connections, much of the 4500 miles of railroad abandoned

during the last three decades were sold to private land owners, the DNR, and assorted county

Regional Railroad Authorities, the latter two parties using the purchases primarily for

recreational trails.

Funding for Rail Bank purchases and maintenance has come from MRSI, and administration of

the program is supported by a Policy Board made up of Mn/DOT Rail Office personnel, along

with Mn/DOT District and DNR representatives. One of the major ongoing challenges of the

program is criteria for acquiring new properties in a systematic way or pattern (past purchases

have largely been opportunistic), and criteria for selling or trading properties that over time

have appeared to have lost their need for preservation. Periodic reviews of the program could

result in a better and more useful catalog of properties. Notably, several of the current and

potential properties in the Rail Bank may have potential to become dedicated segments of

future high-speed, intercity, or commuter rail lines, and could be reevaluated in light of this new use.

I hope this is helpfull

Brian Peterson

L. B. Peterson
Alexandria, MN


The Otter Tail Valley leased two passenger cars in 1988 for excursion train service between Moorhead, Minn., and Alexandria. The excursion lasted just that summer. The cars were painted in an Erie-Lackawanna type paint scheme, maroon window stripe with gray body.

When the OTV decided to stop service railroad east of Fergus, they said that that something like 88% of the business was between Fergus Falls and Moorhead-if my memory is reliable here, and was not viable. Today, with BNSF's traffic levles, I'll bet the BNSF wishes this line was still around.

Fargo, ND


I remember these tracks being used. In the 80's and early 90's. The concrete bridge over one of the main roads in Albany has since been removed, In Avon the trains were always a neat thing to see while at the beach and since a relative lived near them, we were told many times to not play on the tracks, I also remember the coal cars waiting at collegeville, I think the coal was loaded from them to a semi truck and hauled across I-94 to be used at St. John's Abbey/ St. John's University. As a kid waiting for the trains was actually a fun thing...counting cars, as you age it becomes more of a hassle, but I still have to say there is some very good graffiti artists out there, I don't approve, but it is better than what some people put out there and not all people can afford art school :) Just is interesting to see how the cars have changed/what they're hauling has changed

Bowlus, MN


Mind if I ask, when the line from Fergus Falls to St. Cloud was abandoned, was the track speed at 40 MPH? I know that is the Track Speed is 40 from Fergus Falls to Moorhead. I know when most lines that do get abandoned, the Track Speed is usually no more than 10 MPH since the line is so old, it's not usually economical to rehabilitate most old lines.

Jason T
Moorhead, MN


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Do you have any pictures or information about Saint Joseph to Fergus Falls? Please . You will get credit for anything you contribute.