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Federal funding gives planned railroad project near Plankinton a boost

Watco purchased the former Mitchell-Rapid City Railroad in May 2021 and renamed it the Ringneck and Western Railroad. The line runs 108 miles from Presho to Mitchell where it connects with the BNSF Railway and primarily hauls grain, fertilizer and paper products.

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The logo of the renamed Ringneck and Western Railroad since Watco's purchase of the line in 2021 from the state of South Dakota of the former Mitchell-Rapid City rail line. (Courtesy photo)
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PLANKINTON, S.D. — Upgrades to the Ringneck and Western Railroad are getting a boost from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration with a nearly $1.8 million Special Transportation Circumstance grant.

The facility, which will be built on the corner of the U.S. Highway 281 and Old Highway 16 intersection east of Plankinton, will include two, 1,500-foot transload tracks that can hold up to 25 cars each. It will also include a state-of-the-art locomotive pit that can be used for inspections and will have a loadout track for equipment maintenance. Ancillary project work is set to include a loadout spur, six turnouts, and a roadway for vehicular and transloading equipment access.

Watco purchased the former Mitchell-Rapid City Railroad in May 2021 and renamed it the Ringneck and Western Railroad. The line runs 108 miles from Presho to Mitchell where it connects with the BNSF Railway and primarily hauls grain, fertilizer and paper products.

Ringneck and Western General Manager Kley Cameron said in the railroad's 2021 proposal to the South Dakota Department of Transportation that it would be able to move its locomotive maintenance from Chamberlain to Plankinton with the new facility. Watco added that the project will help economic growth in the area by being able to transport lumber and aggregate supplies from the Pacific Northwest into the area for customers, while reducing truck traffic on highways.

The project is expected to cost about $3 million in total, with the federal grant covering 60% of the cost, while Watco would chip in nearly $1.2 million for its share.

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Watco's purchase from the state of South Dakota in 2021 also included completing a rail siding project near Kimball, which received federal funding in 2020. Watco said in December 2021 it completed more than 7,000 railroad ties, installed more than 5,000 tons of rock and restored more than 3 miles of track to add to the rail line's storage.

At the time, Watco was hopeful that the grant would be awarded by April 2022 and could complete the project by fall 2023. The later award date likely means the project will be completed in 2024.

The STC grant's purpose is to direct grant funding to states that lack intercity passenger rail service or those in which the rail transportation system is not connected to the rail system in the continental United States.

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