South Dakota railway sale leaves Britton line in limbo

Farm Forum

It’s still too early to know how the proposed sale of a major railway through South Dakota could affect a state-owned stretch of track from Aberdeen through Britton and into North Dakota, a state transportation official said.

Early this month, the Canadian Pacific Railway announced an agreement to sell portions of its railways in the United States to the Genesee and Wyoming Inc., which operates short line and regional freight railroads. That would include all 600 miles of Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern lines in South Dakota, according to the announcement.

But the so-called Britton line is not a part of the sale, as it is publicly owned.

The state Department of Transportation is, for the first time, crafting a statewide rail plan. During a November meeting in Aberdeen concerning the plan, folks from Marshall County expressed aggravation about the Canadian Pacific not providing better service on the Britton line.

Bruce Lindholm, DOT program manager for air, rail and transit, said the state would be open to discussing options for the Britton line with Genesee and Wyoming officials. But, he said, any such talks are a ways off. Federal officials have to approve the sale before it’s finalized.

According to a news release from the two railroads, the sale is expected to close by the middle of this year, subject to approval of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board and satisfaction of other customary closing conditions.

“Upon closing, the new railroad will be named the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad. G&W expects to hire approximately 180 employees to staff the new company and anticipates these employees will come primarily from those currently working on the rail line,” according to the news release.

The G&W will have trackage rights to use BNSF Railway tracks from Wolsey north to Aberdeen. From Aberdeen, Lindholm said, the G&W could switch to the Britton line, if it would want to. Hauling commodities on the state-owned line into and through North Dakota could open up Canadian markets, including the Port of Vancouver.

“It’s always an advantage to shippers to have more options,” Lindholm said.

South Dakota’s congressional delegation met with G&W senior officials last week, said Andi Fouberg, spokeswoman for Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. Thune is a ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Service and Transportation Committee.

Fouberg said that Thune expects that paperwork will be filed this week with the Surface Transportation Board to formalize the proposed sale.

“The meeting focused on rail service, Genesee and Wyoming railroad’s strong safety record and ability to maintain the line and their plans to increase rail traffic to benefit shipper needs,” Fouberg said.

“Senator Thune also inquired about outreach that Genesee and Wyoming will be making to shippers in South Dakota and was told that local meetings are already happening and additional meetings will take place soon with the current employees of Canadian Pacific,” Fouberg said.

The Canadian Pacific has operated the former DM&E lines in South Dakota since it assumed control of the DM&E in 2008. The portion being sold runs from Tracy, Minn., to Rapid City, plus a couple of shorter offshoots.

It was roughly a year ago when the Canadian Pacific announced plans to sell the former DM&E lines. At the state rail plan meeting in Aberdeen, some local residents expressed hope that a sale would benefit the Britton line.

Also at the meeting, Lindholm said that, before a Canadian Pacific management change, the railroad and state were discussing the state making gradual improvements on the Britton line. But the new management group did not seem interested in continuing the talks, he said.

The tentative price G&W is going to pay the Canadian Pacific for rail lines from Tracy to Rapid City is $210 million, according to information from the companies. The Canadian Pacific would continue to own the rail lines east of Tracy.