Strategic Asset: Ardoch Coal Handling Facility

Strategic Asset: Ardoch Coal Handling Facility

Michele Berg, Purchasing Manager

American Crystal Sugar Company uses subbituminous coal for their boilerhouse operations in all Red River Valley factories, as well as pulp drying operations in the Hillsboro and Drayton, ND factories.  Approximate factory coal usage ranges from 650,000 to 700,000 tons annually.

Prior to 2005, coal deliveries were made by BNSF Railway directly into the factory yards.  A BNSF coal train set would be loaded from a mine near the border of southern Montana/northern Wyoming and travel to the Red River Valley.  The coal train would be split apart and smaller groups of cars would be delivered by the BNSF to each individual factory yard. Due to the logistical complexities and service issues, American Crystal moved away from this method and built a full service, unit train unloading facility with truck transport to each factory.  The site was built to ensure steady, secure coal supply to our five factories.  The Ardoch coal facility became operational August 2005.



American Crystal leases their own coal set that stays in their service 24/7 365 days a year and is powered by BNSF engines and BNSF crew.  This train set cycles between the coal mine and Ardoch on a continuous basis.  The BNSF crew brings the unit train into the private loop track and leaves the train to be unloaded.  There is a time constraint for unloading and releasing the unit train back to BNSF so the coal train is unloaded immediately – day or night and regardless of weather conditions.  When the train is unloaded, it is released to the BNSF through electronic notifications, the BNSF sends a train crew to Ardoch and then the train cycles back to the mine to be loaded again.

Coal is unloaded from the coal cars into an unground pit and transported into a large stockpile through the use of several belt conveyors.  The coal is immediately stacked, groomed and packed to minimize the opportunity for coal fires and coal losses. 

The stockpiled coal is loaded into trucks through another belt conveying system for delivery to the individual factories.  The factories have pit/bunker systems that allow the coal trucks to belly dump the coal right into the coal handling operation and into the factories.  Coal trucks deliver 24/7 during the processing campaign.  As with any form of transportation and logistics, weather can be an impeding factor.  Due to the possibility of extreme winter conditions that could limit or delay daily deliveries, each factory has an appropriately sized coal stockpile in each factory yard for emergencies purposes.  The stockpiled coal will keep factory operations running until daily deliveries can begin again.

Some American Crystal “coal hard” facts:

  • Receive an average of 50-53 unit trains of coal each year
  • 123 cars per unit train
  • Each unit train averages approximately 14,400 tons
  • Average 90-110 truckloads each day to the five factories during campaign
  • Average 2,300 to 2,900 tons delivered per day