Rail and the South Dakota Way Of Life
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
We never had a new car, when I was growing up, but we always spent what was necessary to maintain our car, and keep it in dependable running condition. New isn’t necessarily better, but the old must be maintained, and sometimes improved, if we want to depend upon it. I’ve never forgotten the lessons I learned about the importance of maintenance.
I am sure many South Dakotans have similar stories they could tell about lessons learned from working the land or raising livestock. Even if you didn’t grow up on a ranch or farm yourself, chances are you have parents, grandparents, cousins or friends who did. As a state with such a large ag industry, agriculture defines us. It has instilled in us values like persistence, honesty and courage.
It is thanks to our farmers and ranchers that the way of life which imparts these values endures. It is also, in part, thanks to rail.
Because we are a state with a small population, our farmers and ranchers produce much more than we can consume in South Dakota. The success of our agricultural operations depends upon our producers’ ability to get their products to market. They need efficient, cost-effective options.
That’s where rail comes in. South Dakota’s producers rely a great deal on railroads to deliver their grain to out-of-state markets. One of the state’s most relied upon railroads is the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern, which spans the state from Belle Fourche to Tracy, Minnesota. Since purchasing the line in 2014, Genessee & Wyoming has worked hard to improve rail service to customers along the line.
Through a public-private partnership with the state, RCP&E has just finished constructing two passing sidings: a 10,061-foot siding near Huron and a 7,450-foot siding near Aurora. These sidings allow trains to pass head-to-head, rather than each train waiting for another to arrive. The sidings have already increased the speed with which RCP&E can deliver South Dakota grain to market.
In 2017, RCP&E expects to begin construction of a new 7,000-foot siding near Philip, which will offer additional capacity to West River shippers. This is made possible in part by a TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Due to upgrades like these, and RCP&E’s commitment to the future, companies that rely on this stretch of rail have had the confidence to locate facilities on the line, or upgrade existing facilities. For example, the GCC Dakota cement plant in Rapid City has undertaken a $90 million expansion. As another example, Novita located its $60 million animal protein plant on the line near Aurora.
In addition to these infrastructure investments, in July, the RCP&E secured an agreement with the Union Pacific Railroad to interchange rail traffic at Union Pacific’s Mankato, Minnesota, property. This agreement means RCP&E shippers will now have access to three Class I railroads. This will increase competition for South Dakota grain, as our grain shippers now can ship goods across the vast majority of our national rail network.
We can all be proud of the progress made on one of our state’s most important lines. Good rail service can make all the difference for our producers. Investments like these signal to farmers, ranchers and businesses that they can rely on this line well into the future. Like that old car when I was growing up, this old rail line, built a century ago, is being maintained, and now improved, because we depend upon it.