NewsFebruary 05 2014

Rails to the future

Posted by Lucy

Farmers, legislators and other interested parties attended a meeting in Kennebec last Thursday night to discuss the feasibility of restoring rail service to Lyman County.

The meeting was called by Rep. Jim Schaefer to address funding the rehabilitation of the rail line currently operated by Dakota Southern Railroad from Chamberlain west to Presho.

Rep. Schaefer opened the meeting with news that he had dropped a bill in the 2014 South Dakota legislature Thursday requesting $6 million dollars to fund the rehab project. Senate Bill 137 was introduced by Senator Mike Vehle of Mitchell, and co-signed by Schaefer.According to Schaefer, the Governer's bill to allocate $1.2 million to rehab the bridge over the Missouri River at Chamberlain plus the $3.8 million the state Rail Board currently has would total about $5 million for the project.

If we could get another $6 million, we’d have about $11 million. That’s approximately a third of what it’s going to take to do the entire project,”said Schaefer. The cost to replace just the 150 bridges and culverts along the 42-mile line from Chamberlain to Presho could be between $8 and $10 million. The SD Department of Transportation used a cost estimate of $28 million dollars when they applied for the TIGER grant in 2013. According to Kevin Tveidt, transportation specialist with the DOT, who was in attendance at the meeting, the majority of that would be the Chamberlain to Reliance section, estimated at $14 million for tie, rail, bridge and culvert repair or replacement. It would take another $8 million to reach Kennebec and $6 million to finish the line to Presho. The entire project could take two years to complete. It was stated that the price of steel has dropped as much as 25 percent since these estimates were complied using heavy rail, both new and used.The railroad bridge at Chamberlain is well built but does need new wood ties and heavier rail to upgrade it for larger trains. While Governor Daugarrd's budget request for $1.2 million for bridge repair is before this year's legislature, the Governor has stated that there is no reason to fund the repairs if the line isn't going to continue. With that in mind, the Governor has called for a rail study to prioritize the need of the state-owned lines. The three lines being most discussed by the DOT include the DSR, the Napa to Platte, and a line at Britton. The study is expected to be completed by the summer of 2014. Bill Ferguson, Ideal, stated he believes the governor wants to wait until the study is completed before deciding which line to support funding.

Maybe we'd be better off to get the first section done and get a train to Reliance,” stated Schaefer explaining that the line going further west could be upgraded at a later date with lighter rail or as more funding becomes available.

Rehabbing just to Reliance could favor one business over another,” said Alex Huff, former owner of the DSR. Huff said it was his understanding that several businesses have options to purchase land in Lyman County to build a 110-car load out facility along the rail line.It is recommended that large load out facilities not be built too close together. The Gavilon Liberty Grain facility near Kimball is approximately 40 miles from Reliance.To upgrade the rail line to allow shuttle trains across the river the current 65 lbs per yard rail in place would need to be replaced with at least 115 lb per yard rail.

I think we need to go with the heaviest rail we can, over the whole line, if we want to be able to use this line for the next 50 years,” said Ferguson, Ideal. Jason Glodt, a lobbyist from Pierre, said there was a lot of support in the legislature and with the governor this year for the rail project.

It would be a a good spot for one time money,” said Glodt, referring to the $125 million from the unclaimed property fund that the state has available this year.Glodt added that investing in the state-owned rail lines is the kind of economic development that can bring a good return back to the state.Transporting grain by train rather than truck can add as much as 10 to 30 cents per bushel to the price area farmers in the area could get for their crops.

Having rail in Lyman County will put more money in farmer's pockets,” said Huff. Fergurson asked the crowd if they believed strongly enough in bringing rail service back to Lyman County to support the project financially.The majority of the crowd raised their hand in agreement. It was the consensus of the group organize a committee to collect money to hire a lobbyist to promote funding the rail line rehab project in Lyman County at the 2014 legislature.

Rails to the future” was a name suggested by Ferguson.

We've ready reached the future, and our old infrastructure is no longer sufficient,” added Ferguson. Steve Halverson was nominated to chair the committee, with Ferguson acting as vice chair. Both have worked together on the State Wheat Commission. Bryan Jorgenson, also of Ideal, and a current member of the SD Crop Improvement boardand a past member of the SD Corn Council was named secretary/treasurer.Anyone wishing to make a contribution to fund the promotion of Rails to the Future may contact any committee member

Looks like it's unanimous,” said Schaefer with regards to the majority of the crowd being in favor of trying to get to Presho or even Vivian. “We're going to work hard to get this done!”

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