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Box Cars to Box Elder- Help for West River

It was a (little long) but very good day for West River as we continue to move forward two appropriations bills that I am Prime Sponsoring.

SB 93 got an upgrade and had it’s first hearing in the Joint Committee on Appropriations. Originally a $6 million ask to rehabilitate the railroad between Fort Pierre and Midland, it’s new iteration is $20 million dollars and is a proposal to overhaul the railroad all the way from Fort Pierre to Rapid City.

Why is upgrading the RCP&E main line from Fort Pierre to Rapid City to handle modern freight cars a very important objective for the state of South Dakota? There are three main reasons:

1. Customers served along the line need it to compete in their marketplaces. Grain shipments from Rapid City, Wall, New Underwood, Philip and Midland all are handicapped if they cannot ship to their customers in modern, fully loaded 286,000 lb. covered hoppers. GCC Cement in Rapid City is also at a disadvantage to its out-of-state competitors by not being able to ship cement in similar modern covered hoppers.

2. The ability to attract new companies and associated jobs to locations along the Fort Pierre to Rapid City main line are limited when the prospect needs rail freight service. In site searches for locations with rail access, the ability to ship or receive 286,000 lb. freight cars often is a deciding factor. While specific sites searches are often confidential and change frequently, in a recent discussion with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development it was made clear that there are active new industry development efforts along the Fort Pierre to Rapid City line that would require rail freight service.

3. This is the one significant rail line connecting the second largest city in South Dakota to the national rail network, allowing for competitive access to three large Class I railroads (BNSF, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific) and access to North American and overseas markets. This line is critical for the future growth of Rapid City and the entire West River region.

Two Improvements Needed on the PRC Subdivision:

1. Install new heavy, 136 lb. per yard continuous welded rail (CWR) replacing the current 100 year old 33 and 39 foot sections of 100 lb. per yard rail, which will dramatically improve the stability of the track structure over Pierre Shale. With the proper ballast and track maintenance practices already in place on the RCP&E, this new heavy welded rail will disperse the impacts of passing trains and minimize the movement of the track structure.

2. Rebuild bridge structures, mainly with larger caps and stringers on the trestles on the line. This will not only allow for heavier loading limits on the bridges but will also strengthen the structures overall. Together these two improvements will allow the PRC Subdivision to handle modern, fully loaded freight cars in a safe and efficient manner. With normal routine maintenance, new heavy continuous welded rail can reasonably be expected to last 80 to 100 years and rebuilt bridges are expected to last indefinitely.

Public Benefits of Upgrading the PRC Subdivision:

· Enhance ability for grain, cement, bentonite clay and other current customers to ship by rail more efficiently and economically to their domestic and international customers, improving their ability to compete in their markets.

· Improve the line to handle 286,000 lb. freight cars, a significant factor in attracting new companies and jobs to sites along the line that require access to the national rail network.

· Increase train speeds from 10 to 25 mph; not only to expedite customer shipments, but also significantly reduce vehicle wait times in all grade crossings.

· Replace 100 year old rail requiring a high level of inspection to detect possible failures that could lead to a derailment. Even with the increased inspection efforts, the old rail can still unexpectedly break under a passing train, risking a derailment. New rail will greatly improve safety by reducing the risk of derailments.

· Upgrade the bridges on the line to reduce the risk of a component failure that could result in the loss of a bridge and severing the line for rail service until it can be repaired or replaced.

You can listen to the testimony here

Funding breakdown:

RCP&E Contribution (50.0%) $42 million

Federal Grant (26.2%) $22 million

State of South Dakota Match (23.8%) $20 million

But wait, there’s more. If this investment could get any better, any amount appropriated which isn't expended or obligated by June 30, 2029, will go back into the general fund.


Box Elder had their day with SB 151, An Act to make an appropriation to provide for infrastructure to support Ellsworth Air Force Base, which passed unanimously out of Senate State Affairs Committee and will move onto the Joint Committee on Appropriations.

This bill is an opportunity for the South Dakota Legislature to help contribute to the exciting new developments happening at the Ellsworth Air Force Base and in the City of Box Elder related to the B-21 Bomber program. The City is preparing for the influx of approximately seven thousand new residents that will accompany this program at the Base. This is unprecedented growth for a City of 10,000 residents and the success of this project and the B-21 program at Ellsworth is something that can help solidify South Dakota's relationship with our national strategic defense program. The residents of District 35 believe state funding assistance with this infrastructure request will not only provide benefits that resonate across the entire State of South Dakota but also signal the beginning of a new gateway to the Black Hills region. The financial burden of the growth of EAFB should not be placed on the shoulders of Box Elder residents. Some in higher government are concerned that by providing state funding for city infrastructure we’ll be setting a precedent for other communities to request funding. I would challenge that we should set the precedent that a South Dakota community expecting to grow their population base by 7,000 people in the next 3-5 years AND is home to an air force base should receive help from the state.

A strong Box Elder equals a strong Ellsworth Air Force Base and a strong South Dakota.

SB 151 will now move on to the Committee on Joint Appropriations for its next hearing.

Box Elder has incredible leadership! They did a very impressive job at the Capitol today.

Click here to listen to the committee meeting from 2/22/2021

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