Rail chief told to get act together

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Farm Forum

PIERRE — Shape up.

That’s the stern message the South Dakota Railroad Board delivered on May 18 to Dakota Southern’s chief Mike Williams. The board wants much better maintenance of the state-owned rail line that his company leases west from Mitchell.

The state rebuilt the segment from Mitchell to Chamberlain using a combination of federal, state, company and other funding. Now the same effort is underway on the line from Chamberlain west to Presho.

A major grain elevator operates near Kimball as a result of the earlier upgrade.

Wheat Growers, meanwhile, has built a major grain and fertilizer facility in Kennebec in anticipation of the rehabilitation on the west side of the Missouri River.

The board voted 6-0 on May 18, after an executive session that ran deep into a second hour, to put conditions on Dakota Southern. The railroad has a 90-day deadline to correct maintenance deficiencies found by board members during a tour of the line earlier this spring. The board also required Dakota Southern to lay 10,000 tons of ballast, the rock that helps hold ties in place, at various spots between Mitchell and Chamberlain.

The railroad also must remove all junked ties from its maintenance yard in Chamberlain and submit a three-year maintenance plan to the board.

Board members took turns telling Williams they were disappointed in his operation. Comments by Jerry Cope of Rapid City were typical.

“We don’t want to have to be back every year or every six months doing this,” he said.

Williams had spent the first hour of the meeting outlining all of the work that was planned and how he intended to accomplish it. He said his brother Gary would move to South Dakota and oversee the maintenance, 10 more workers would be hired in the next one to two months and work crews and equipment from Williams’ other operations across the country would come in 2017.

“We know what we have to address,” Williams said.

Board members repeatedly asked whether the work could be finished in time for harvest this summer and fall. Williams repeatedly said it could be.

“You’ve got a very ambitious program here,” said board member Sheldon Cotton of Volga. “I’m skeptical about you getting it done.”

“We don’t want to be back here every year on this thing, and we certainly don’t want the track west to turn up like this,” board member Gary Doering of Cavour said. “We need to keep everything up and in a workable manner.”

Chairman Todd Yeaton, who manages the Kimball elevator along the line, said he is “rather concerned” that he and others must meet with the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee about it.

“We want performance. We don’t want to do this again — ever,” Yeaton told Williams.

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