Bids awarded, launching railroad project into gearThe South Dakota State Railroad Board awarded final bids Thursday at its board meeting in Mitchell to throw a railroad refurbishing project into full swing.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
The South Dakota State Railroad Board awarded final bids Thursday at its board meeting in Mitchell to throw a railroad refurbishing project into full swing.
Officials from the state railroad board toured the state-owned line from Mitchell to Mount Vernon Thursday to see the condition of the track. The full line runs from Mitchell to Chamberlain.
Riding in pickups and SUVs that utilize attachments to become “high rail vehicles,” the officials took many stops to view work the Dakota Southern Railroad has already completed.
Dakota Southern has removed sod from the shoulders of the track to make way for installation of equipment and materials. The state estimates there are 3,200 wooden ties per mile with 1,800 needing replacement, according to Todd Yeaton, the state railroad board chairman.
The cleanup process is a little behind schedule, said Lynn Kennison, state railroad transportation specialist.
“They’re about three miles east of Plankinton. They’d hoped to be to Kimball,” Kennison said. “It’s a combination of things.”
The machines Dakota Southern is using are older, plus cutting sod is a tough project and tough on equipment, he said.
Workers have already started marking ties with yellow spray paint that need to be replaced. Kennison said the ties will be replaced with creosoted hardwood.
“Creosote soaks into the soft woods, like pine, better,” Kennison said. “But the hardwoods, like oak or gum, take pressure better.”
The state will also replace the rail, which is warped from years of abuse and neglect. Much of the original rail is still in place, dating from 1908 and 1912. Other sections were replaced in 1953 and beyond.
“We’ll be putting in about 115-pound rail,” Yeaton said.
The 61.3 miles of steel will be salvaged to help pay for approximately four miles of the new line.
Dakota Southern Railroad will be leasing the track from the Mitchell to Rapid City (MRC) Regional Railroad Authority, which leases the line from the state railroad board, Yeaton said.
The state bought the line in 1980 long after it was abandoned in the 1970s when the company that owned it filed bankruptcy, Yeaton said. Because the owner wanted to merge with a larger company he put all the money he could on the books rather than invest it into repairing or replacing rail, neglecting the line, he said.
Yeaton and Kennison offered some railroad history on the tour. Prior to leaving, the men found the stamp on a rail section showing when and where it was manufactured, and how much it weighs.
While stopped at a bridge, Kennison explained the difference between a ballast deck bridge and open rail bridges. Ballasted bridges have a base and are filled with rock.
“These are actually easier to maintain,” he said.
The board members got a final treat at the end of the tour — many went home with date nails from 1935 and 1939. In the early days of railroads, workers pounded dated nails into ties, marking the installation year.
More recent ties are stamped with a distinct pattern rather than a nail.
Once they returned from the tour, the State Railroad Board approved a $28.1 million funding package to cover rehabilitation work planned for more than 60 miles of track west from Mitchell.
The financial arrangements include $24.6 million of cash from a variety of federal, state and local sources; another $2 million of in-kind contributions from work by Dakota Southern Railway Co that leases the state-owned line; and an estimated $1.5 million that will come from selling old rail that will be salvaged from the current track.
“I believe this will be one of the biggest things that’s happened to central South Dakota,” said Bruce Lindholm, the rail program manager for the state Department of Transportation.
The commitments of state funds will drain the board’s loan fund and also take about $2.3 million of cash from various accounts controlled by the board. The single largest source of funds is a $16 million federal grant. Surcharges will be imposed on rail cars that use the route in order to pay about $2.7 million of the costs.
“If the bills all come in this year, the rail fund would go negative and it will refill through payments on other loans. Worst case scenario, by the end of 2012 we’d be back in the black. Best-case scenario, we’d never go in the red,” Lindholm said.
The project has triggered plans for two major grain-loading terminals in the Kimball area. They are forecast to save farmers millions of dollars annually in shipping costs for their grains.
“This is a major, major accomplishment for economic development in central South Dakota,” said Todd Yeaton, of Highmore, the board’s chairman. “Our grandkids and great-grandkids are going to reaping the benefits.”
— Bob Mercer c