Thursday, November 14, 2013

South Dakota hires Massachusetts rail planner



The South Dakota Department of Transportation has scheduled six meetings in Aberdeen, Sioux Falls and Rapid City to develop the 2014 State Rail Plan. According to the American News:
The goal of the meetings is to inventory the state’s rail system; identify critical rail system issues, needs and opportunities; articulate policies governing the state’s involvement in the rail system; and establish a long-range investment program for rail infrastructure throughout South Dakota.
The Republican-owned state agency selected Cambridge Systematics, a Massachusetts-based company. Their Wiki entry describes its mission:
Cambridge Systematics partners with its clients to develop solutions in public transportation, urban design, climate change, environmental impact assessment, sustainability, sustainable transport, land use planning, forecasting, asset management, public-private partnership, infrastructure, and logistics.
A level-headed post appeared at South Dakota's Republican tabloid. No, it wasn't penned by its puffy, petulant owner who has now buried some real journalism under a pile of propaganda.

The author, MC, recognizes many of the problems of the Canadian Pacific railbed and does a good job defending the need for border to border freight rail service although coal is by far the commodity most being shipped. Maintenance West River is wildly expensive and rail real estate still has to pay property taxes. When the Missouri River ices over stress increases on bridge structures and creates pricey engineering challenges.

This interested party has shouted frustration with the train as it continues to complicate traffic in The Gap and sustains the risk of spills in downtown Rapid City.

There is an abandoned right of way that used to connect Sioux Falls and Rapid City with passenger service: it mostly parallels I-90, one of the largest carbon-based fuel black holes in the cosmos.

Minnesota Public Radio has been following fast-tracking development of light rail. Amtrak is reporting 300% ridership increases in some markets; its ridership funding is subject of one legislature according to Indiana Public Media. CSX is an underwriter of NPR: it's a railroad making money. Here are the percentages of return on investment for several railroads.

Richard Piersol at the Lincoln JournalStar:
Berkshire Hathaway's recent discovery that it owned a couple of short-line railroads in Iowa and Oregon has led to questions about the legality of its acquisition of BNSF Railway. Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, wrote a letter to the federal Surface Transportation Board essentially backing an organization of captive shippers, Citizens United for Rail Equity, which says Berkshire's ownership of the short-line railroads in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Oregon meant it needed STB approval before it bought BNSF.
Yes, there is railroad real estate connecting Santa Fe with Rapid City: a set of rusty, maybe-active tracks in the historic rail bed now owned by Canadian Pacific terminates on BNSF's holdings at Dakota Junction, Nebraska.

The speed limit on Nebraska 71 is 60 miles per hour on the 75 miles of bone-dry high prairie grassland between Crawford and Scottsbluff: it's potentially deadly during a blizzard.

US18/US85 between Hot Springs and Lusk, Wyoming is no better; besides, I-25, especially through the Denver metro, sucks at biblical proportions: so does flying through DIA with its likelihood of a strip search.

Construction on the estimated half-billion dollar Heartland Expressway connecting Rapid City with I-80 in Nebraska or Wyoming (nobody knows) is glacial if not completely stalled while traffic between the Black Hills and Denver continues to increase as does the volume between Denver and Santa Fe. Amtrak goes over (sometimes under) Raton Pass. The New Mexico RailRunner connects Santa Fe with ABQ and the Southwest Chief. Moving coal is hardly sustainable yet it supports rail traffic between Trinidad, Colorado and points north and south: why not move more humans by making more commutes and seasonal migrations ground-based?

From MC's piece:
Because railroad companies own their rail, the cost to lay and maintain rail is consider proprietary, and are rather unwilling to share it with me. The numbers I have found generally indicate the cost to install new rail ranges from 500,000 per mile to 49,100,000,000 per mile, depending on the obstacles and the location. Maintenance costs is some where between $1,000 and $500,000 per mile per year, again depending on the location and current condition of the track itself. That doesn’t mean they are going to spend that much each year, just an average cost. Keep in mind the railroad is suppose to cover all these costs, and not rely on any tax revenue.
Lifted from comments to MC's article, Thomas says:
Many many reasons the DME coal project didn’t work, but politics was the main reason. UP and BNSF fought hard but quietly in DC to ensure that it would be a long and expensive undertaking. Obama in 2008 campaign said that his goal was to bankrupt the coal industry and he nearly has. More locally, Bill Janklow went out of his way to try to ensure that Scheifer’s [sic] and Pressler’s DM&E stalled, bankrupted, and went out of business. After Janklow pushed buying the Milwaukee lines he said no to saving the C&NW line. Pressure and Schiefer [sic] pulled that off and Janklow never forgot. His personal interests out-weighed the economics of our state in this case and he worked against the coal expansion project and against a large South Dakota corporation and we lost jobs with the sale of DM&E to CP. DM&E also had a line less than 40 miles away from Canton that could’ve brought SE SoDak ag products to Chicago, the Great Lakes and ST Lawrence Seaway to other markets. That 40 mile link could’ve been financed by the DM&E’s Powder River Coal Line Driving shipping prices down by competing RRs and opening new markets to our farmers. Politics. Nothing more than politics.
Chicago is home to an infamous rail bottleneck that slows coast to coast service to a crawl. There is no north-south rail between Rapid City and the booming Bakken market; CP's line terminates at Colony, Wyoming. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) wants to restore the Hiawatha Line.

Troy Jones:
However, when DM&E proposed its improvement project, we had a knee-jerk ideological response (crony capitalism) which pushed the DM&E into foreign hands who had no real incentive in the well-being of the economy of South Dakota. It was foolish. My thought is to help engineer a new “DM&E” to buy back the track. The State/Federal government put together a financing package for rehabilitation of the track. The new owner then repays the State/Feds over time based on miles traveled.
If we do nothing, the migration from the non-metro areas will be huge. In 30 years, we will be 600,000 people with 450,000 living within 100 miles of Sioux Falls and Rapid City. Aberdeen, Watertown, Huron, and Mitchell will not total 50,000 and most of the towns between will be ghost towns.
Yes, overcoming the task of building a bridge at Chamberlain across (under?) the Missouri River and over the Pierre Shale should lead to passenger service being built on the abandoned Milwaukee bed between Sioux Falls and Rapid City including access for rural communities then connect with a future line built to Colorado's rail line. It's not hard to imagine a future without passenger rail of some kind in the I-29 corridor.

Imagine a time when portions or all track is elevated for wildlife egress through a future corridor between the Canadian River in New Mexico and an Amtrak station near the Missouri River in North Dakota then on to the Yukon River in Alaska intersecting with a tunnel under the Bering Strait connecting South and North America to Russia.

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