PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Railroad Board made the changes that the Federal Railroad Administration wanted in the state’s new four-year rail plan before adopting it Wednesday.

Now the 196-page document goes back for final federal approval. How long that might take isn’t clear at this point, said Jack Dokken, who oversees the state railroad office for the South Dakota Department of Transportation.

Global engineering firm HDR prepared the plan for the board as part of a $548,570 state contract. HDR’s David Montoya reviewed changes that federal officials sought after a preliminary review.

They wanted columns added to tables 67 and 68 showing the status of each project as well as the estimated federal and non-federal costs. That was done.

They also wanted an updated statement on ‘equity issues’ that might have an impact on the development of rail services in South Dakota.

Montoya said that was addressed by adding a final paragraph: “SDDOT and the State Rail Board will consider all relevant and applicable federal laws, regulations, policies, and Executive Orders related to equity considerations or establishing/supporting equitable practices in
the management of State rail programs and implementation of rail projects within the state.”

And the federal reviewers wanted to know whether South Dakota was interested in the FRA’s new corridor identification program for passenger rail service — and if not, why not. South Dakota is one of the few states that no longer has passenger service.

Montoya said this sentence was added: “South Dakota does not at this time intend to submit a proposal to the FRA for any new service under the Corridor Identification Study framework, and anticipates that any State role will be limited to coordination with other eligible applicant proposals should they emerge.”

Board member Jerry Cope of Rapid City asked why the equity statement was needed. Montoya said it reflects a greater emphasis from President Biden’s administration.

The board also accepted the new rail-investment guide that HDR prepared.

Cope, who chaired the board for several years and switched to vice-chair Wednesday, said one of the changes made to the 78-page document was re-aligning the scoring matrix.

Going forward, he said, privately-funded projects will score higher than projects that need state loans, and projects needing state loans will score higher than projects that need state grants.