Some environmental-related paperwork remains to be completed before the state Department of Transportation receives the federal TIGER grant of nearly $12.7 million for the next segment of work on the Mitchell-Rapid City rail line. State government owns the line.
DOT official Bruce Lindholm told the state Railroad Board at its meeting Wednesday that “substantial completion” of the rehabilitation from Chamberlain to one mile west of Presho is expected in September 2016. He said that means trains could start running on the line in two years. “It’s not set in stone yet,” he said about the schedule.
Plans are still taking shape but one contractor is likely, in part because there aren’t access roads and there are many bridges on the 11 miles or so between Oacoma and Reliance, according to Lindholm. He said design work is starting and there will be weed spraying and other vegetation removal this fall using state funds.
The project’s multiple sources of funding from South Dakota strengthened the application. The Legislature led by Rep. Jim Schaefer, R-Kennebec, and Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, appropriated $7.2 million that was supported by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. The state board made another $7 million available. The local Rails to the Future organization raised more than $1 million from producers and agriculture groups. There also was support for the project from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe.
“The amount of private money was phenomenal,” Lindholm said. “To everybody involved it was a real win.”
Schaefer said Wednesday that word from a governor’s aide is a desire to rehab the next dozen miles from Presho to Vivian. Schaefer said recycling the old rail might help accomplish that. Lindholm offered a different perspective on the old 85-pound rail. He said the project so far is using sturdier 110-pound rail from Mitchell west. He said the 85-pound rail probably can be sold for salvage price or higher and the money might be needed for the work to reach Presho.
Railroad Board chairman Todd Yeaton of Kimball, who manages an elevator on the restored MRC line, said he’d like to see the rehabilitation continue west to Vivian and all the way to Murdo if possible. “Hat off to all involved. It’s a definite win for the state,” Yeaton said.
Alex Huff, a retired railroader who previously ran the Dakota Southern Railway on the MRC line, said the last loaded train left Presho in 2007. He praised everyone who contributed in the TIGER process. It is the second time South Dakota received federal support for rehabilitation of the line. “It was a a good piece of work,” he said.
Railroad Board member Jerry Cope asked, “What happens if the bills come in high?” Lindholm replied, “We have to find more money.” He added that cost reductions would be sought. “Hopefully we didn’t miss it too far,” he said.
TIGER by the way stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. The work that is planned for the latest segment includes the railroad bridge crossing the Missouri River between Chamberlain and Oacoma.