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OUR VIEW: Don’t leave safety behind in push for railroad traffic

There’s danger lurking on South Dakota’s prairies, and it’s something that — if unchecked — will eventually lead to serious injury and possibly death.

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As more train track is renovated and replaced, and as more corn is hauled away from the region, trains are becoming more prevalent in south-central South Dakota. The result is a greater potential for accidents.

For instance, a truck collided with a train last week in Mount Vernon. Although there were no injuries and damage was light, it still shows the risk that now exists at rural crossings.

And some of these crossings are very rural. Downright desolate, in fact.

Making matters worse is a population of residents who just aren’t really used to these tracks being used so much.

Why the increase in traffic? The region has become a breadbasket for the world, and more corn than ever is being shipped to worldwide markets.

In another week, Canadian National rail cars are expected to roll into the new grain facility between Kimball and White Lake, taking advantage of recently renovated tracks. Regular train service on that stretch of track had discontinued for at least a decade until 2012, and was only brought back to life after a $29 million rehabilitation effort.

A bridge project at Chamberlain has been proposed, and could result in expanded rail service west of the Missouri River, too.

All of these projects mean more trains, and that means more potential for crashes at rail crossings.

As rural train service expands, we urge transportation officials for a correlating expansion of safety measures at rural crossings.

We acknowledge that every rural crossing does not need safety arms that drop and halt traffic as trains approach. But we do feel that more flashing lights are needed, and at the very least more signage would be appropriate.

We’re excited about the prospects that come with expanded train service to our region. But without improved safety measures, there will be trouble.