S.D. panel backs two rail projects for fed aid

Capitol News Bureau
KELO railroad signal light

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Two projects at opposite ends of South Dakota got the endorsements they wanted Wednesday.

The state Railroad Board gave formal support to applications by Ellis and Eastern Co. of Sioux Falls and Belle Fourche Development Corp.

The seven board members voted unanimously for each. Whether the projects get grants is up to the Federal Railroad Administration.

South Dakota has about $7.2 million still available under what’s known as the federal STC program. The projects would take about $5.8 million.

Ellis and Eastern wants federal funding for three bridges in the Sioux Falls and Brandon areas. Improving the bridges is key to restoring service on the seven miles of track between Brandon and Valley Springs.

The company already runs trains on the eastern-most segment in Minnesota between Manley and Worthington. Company officials want to add the Sioux Falls portion so the line connects with two major rail carriers.

“Dual access is huge,” Jerry Cope of Rapid City, the state board’s chairman, said.

Joe Kirby of Sioux Falls, the board’s newest member, said he saw the bridges after the recent heavy rains. “Parts of them were under water,” Kirby said.

The company already delivers cottonseed by rail into the Sioux Falls area for dairy producers, who get increased production from feeding it to their cows. This would make the route more direct.

Belle Fourche Development Corp. wants to build a new 2,660-feet rail siding in its industrial park that the Rapid City, Pierre and Eastern railroad serves.

One of the siding’s uses would be to transfer materials and equipment for the Sanford Underground Research Facility in the old Homestake underground mine at Lead.

The connection to three major highways — U.S. 85, U.S. 212 and S.D. 34 — also means there would be access throughout the region, including to North Dakota oil fields.

“I think it would be a good place to park some money,” board member Greg Carmon of Brandon said.

“The Bakken (formation) has a lot of opportunity,” board member Jeff Burket of Belle Fourche said.

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