HURON – Since its formation three years ago, the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern (RCP&E) Railroad has developed into a highly regarded line that continues to improve its infrastructure and equipment, Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Friday in Huron.
State and local officials joined RCP&E leaders in celebrating the start of a $12.4 million project to replace 10 miles of rail on the main line east of Huron and to construct a 7,000-foot siding at Philip.
A subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming Inc., the RCP&E was formed when Canadian Pacific sold the line in South Dakota in 2014.
When he came into office in 2011, Daugaard said he relayed the myriad of complaints about service provided by the Canadian Pacific.
“The CP really did not give us the service that a Class 1 carrier should have given,” the governor said. “We were at the end of the line, we were at the bottom of their list and that’s the way we felt, and that’s the way I think many of our shippers were treated.”
But that all changed with the Genesee & Wyoming’s purchase of the rail line, he said.
“They’re not just milking this line, they’re improving it, they’re adding service, they’re adding customers, and those customers – every one that I’ve spoken with – are very pleased with the customer service they’re getting and the rates they’re getting from the RCP&E,” Daugaard said.
Jack Hellmann, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Genesee & Wyoming Inc., said the company has invested about $60 million in new track in South Dakota and another $60 million in equipment, including rail cars and capital upgrades to locomotives.
Also, customers up and down the line have invested more than $300 million in facilities, he said.
“If your customers are confident that the railroad is there, and is going to give proper service for the long haul, that confidence results in significant investment that, in turn, created over 150 new jobs for the state of South Dakota,” Hellmann said.
Brad Ovitt, president of the RCP&E and senior vice president of Genesee & Wyoming Inc., said the work on the main line east of Huron will begin within a few weeks.
The 10 miles of 100-pound jointed rail will be replaced with 115-pound continuously welded rail that is much heavier, modern and smoother and will mean better safety and an increase in train speeds from 10 mph to 40 mph.
More than 7,000 railroad ties will also be replaced.
The second part of the $12.4 million project is construction of the new siding at Philip. The siding will mean that full trains heading in one direction can pull over to let another train pass going in the other direction. It will allow for up to about 100 additional trains per year on the line between Fort Pierre and Rapid City.
As it is now, trains must wait to use the line if there is a train coming from the other direction.
“So if you’re a westbound train leaving Fort Pierre, you really can’t leave until the eastbound train that left Rapid City 16 and a half hours ago gets to Fort Pierre,” Daugaard said.
The work is made possible through a public-private partnership.
Funding includes $6 million from a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, $4.4 million in RCP&E private funds and $2 million in a state grant.
Roger Krueger, senior vice president – grain, for the South Dakota Wheat Growers Association, said the RCP&E has been a good partner with the association.
The railroad has supported producers with its investments in railroad track, the addition of locomotives and increasing the number of crews and rail cars, he said.
It provides farmers with some of their own destination markets, but also serves as a vital link to connect South Dakota crop production with market destinations on other railroads, Krueger said.
South Dakota products are shipped to each coast and also to overseas customers, he said.
“The project we are celebrating today will enhance significantly every citizen, every community and our state of South Dakota’s future economic growth and well-being,” said Sen. Jim White, R-Huron.
Mayor Paul Aylward noted that Huron has been a railroad town since it was established in 1883.
“It was chosen for the path of the main line railroad that runs through here, that is still operating today,” he said.
As chairman, president and CEO of Genesee & Wyoming, Hellmann oversees 122 railroads around the world.
The name of the company comes from the names of two counties in upstate New York, where the original short line was located. Corporate headquarters are in Darien, Conn.
Hellmann said the Genesee & Wyoming and the RCP&E are in it for the long haul in Huron and South Dakota.
“It’s truly bigger than any of us here,” he said. “This is infrastructure that will be part of this community forever, and we’re proud to be part of it.”