Talks in progress to bring massive trains onto Mitchell-Chamberlain line
The Daily Republic
Oct. 07--KIMBALL — Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is negotiating to operate massive trains on the state-owned rail line that runs from Mitchell to Chamberlain.
The trains, known as shuttles, would consist of 110 cars dedicated to quickly moving hundreds of thousands of bushels of grain over long distances in a matter of hours, said Bruce Lindholm, the rail program manager for the state Department of Transportation.
Burlington Northern is negotiating with Dakota Southern Railway, which has a lease from the state to operate the Mitchell-to-Chamberlain line. If they strike a deal, a Burlington Northern train would come to Mitchell on its own line and switch to the state-owned line.
From there, it would either be crewed by Burlington Northern or Dakota Southern.
The entire 110-car train would be driven to the Kimball area, loaded at one of two large grain-loading facilities under development there, and then driven back to Mitchell and switched back to Burlington Northern’s line.
Typically, these trains would haul grain to a Seattle port to be unloaded and shipped overseas, Lindholm said.
The possibility of Burlington Northern shuttle service was discussed on a conference call Thursday with members of the board of the Mitchell to Rapid City Regional Railroad Authority.
Lindholm said the rehabilitation of the Mitchell-to-Chamberlain line -- which is necessary to support the big trains -- is a little behind schedule. The $28 million project is supported by a $16 million federal grant and other funding.
"The contractor had a pretty rough start," he said on the conference call. "They’re doing far better now."
The contractor has installed 44 miles of ties -- which amounts to 108,000 individual ties -- on the 61-mile line and has installed 22 miles of steel. At some point, the contractor will also have to go back and "fix some quality issues," Lindholm said. For the first time last week, a full-size train moved over the new part of the line for testing.
Once the rehab project is complete, Dakota Southern will be responsible for maintaining the line.
The Burlington Northern shuttle trains could get grain from two large grain-loader projects under development near Kimball -- one proposed by Liberty Grain, which is located between Kimball and White Lake and is under construction, and another proposed by Dakota Mill and Grain at a site just northwest of Kimball.
Kimball’s location is advantageous not only because it’s along the rail line, but also because it’s at the intersection of Interstate 90 and state Highway 45, making it a strategic point for farmers to haul grain bound for shuttle trains.
"It would not be an exaggeration to say if we didn’t have shuttle service, those facilities wouldn’t be built," Lindholm said.
Burlington Northern and Dakota Southern will work out their own division of rates and operational issues. Examples of such arrangements exist elsewhere.
For example, Lindholm said, Burlington Northern provides shuttle service on the Canadian Pacific line at Wolsey.
Burlington Northern brings a shuttle train to Wolsey, a Canadian Pacific crew mans that shuttle to the elevator and back to Wolsey, and Burlington Northern takes the shuttle out of Wolsey.
"It’s not all worked out," Lindholm said of arrangements along the Mitchell-to-Chamberlain line. "As the state, we believe we need to have Burlington Northern service at the facilities to keep it viable and help producers."
In the coming months, Burlington Northern and Dakota Southern will discuss division of rates to ensure sufficient revenue to allow Burlington Northern to operate on the line and Dakota Southern to make repairs and a profit, Lindholm said.
Dakota Southern has not been given a formal rate quote from Burlington Northern, said Avery Beggs, a representative for Railroad Material Salvage Inc., parent company of Dakota Southern.
Lindholm assured the regional authority board that Burlington Northern’s potential contribution to the line rehabilitation is part of the negotiations. Lindholm said that’s good news.
"These big facilities and others that may locate on the line are going to need BN shuttle service, because BN has the market in the area," Lindholm said. "I think this line’s going to be a huge success."