Line progress satisfies railroad board

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Farm Forum

PIERRE — Mike Williams and his crews at Dakota Southern railroad passed a big test.

By repairing and cleaning up the state-owned line west from Mitchell that his company leases, they won back the confidence of the South Dakota Railroad Board.

Todd Yeaton, the board’s chairman from Highmore, manages the grain elevator outside Kimball that depends on the line. At a meeting on Aug. 17, with the other board members alongside or listening by telephone, Yeaton congratulated Williams.

“I think I speak for the board. I didn’t think you were going to do it,” Yeaton said.

Three months ago, the tone was very different, as the board expressed its disappointment in the shoddy conditions of the line.

Williams said his crews worked seven days a week as necessary. “We did get it done, on time. That’s the main thing,” he said.

Yeaton said the assurances that Williams has made to the board must continue to be met.

“What we said 90 days ago is we don’t want to do it again. We don’t want to do it again,” Yeaton said.

He described the railroad board as “caretakers of assets of the state of South Dakota.”

Dakota Southern routinely operates from Mitchell to the Missouri River and the track is being rebuilt west from Oacoma to Presho so regular service can be made to the new Wheat Growers facilities at Kennebec.

The deteriorating condition along the line prompted the state board to send small teams of its members to review the conditions of each of the state-owned lines throughout South Dakota.

The Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee also took deeper interest, because millions of dollars in state, federal and local funds have been spent to restore service.

State government purchased the lines in the late 1970s after the Milwaukee Road went bankrupt.

Harlan Quenzer of Mitchell, a board member, and a state Department of Transportation railroad expert, Lyle Kennison, rode the Mitchell-west line with Williams earlier this month.

Quenzer filed a four-page report to the board from the Aug. 9 trip that said “nearly” all of the work was done, such as bridge maintenance, ballast replacement and tamping, tie replacement and disposal, weed control, tree and brush removal and crossing repairs.

Among his recommendations were monthly reports from Williams to the board, submission of a written plan from Williams outlining the personnel needed to always be on hand for maintenance, and a written plan from Williams for tie replacement between Mitchell and Chamberlain and between Chamberlain and Presho.

There will be a formal action regarding Dakota Southern’s plans at the board’s September meeting.

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