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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

STB places final stamp of approval on DM&E's long-proposed PRB project


Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Corp.’s nearly four-year wait is over. Surface Transportation Board Jan. 30 gave final approval to DM&E’s $1.5 billion plan to build a 280-mile rail line into Wyoming's Powder River Basin coal mines and upgrade 600 existing track miles.
STB ruled that, so as not to deprive shippers of anticipated improved rail service resulting from DM&E’s proposal, the board wouldn’t stand in the way of the project, if DM&E obtains the necessary financing.
"This is a project that’s been long awaited, eagerly debated, and today, will be much celebrated at DM&E," said DM&E President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Schieffer at a Jan. 30 press conference. "We take pride in the fact that this is not a regional project but national infrastructure for the country."
The board’s decision generally adopts recommended mitigation measures proposed in an Environmental Impact Statement, which examined environmental impacts of the new rail line, and of rehabilitating DM&E's existing line in Minnesota and South Dakota to accommodate significant coal traffic increases.
The board's 147 mitigation measures address various issues, ranging from safety, noise, water quality, and biological and cultural resources to establishing
community and tribal liaisons.
To address specific safety concerns, STB is requiring DM&E to build two grade-separated crossings in Rochester, Minn., one in Pierre, S.D. DM&E also must comply with a grade crossing mitigation plan to provide a higher level of crossing protection.
STB plans to enforce continuing oversight of DM&E's mitigation-measure implementation and retain the authority to resolve any unanticipated environmental problems.
For DM&E's line westward into the PRB, STB determined that the railroad’s alternate route to avoid potential environmental impacts — which differs from its originally proposed route by avoiding environmentally-sensitive areas along the Cheyenne River — would be the environmentally preferable alternative.
However, a proposed bypass around Rochester won’t be required by STB because it would raise the potential risk of sinkholes along that route.
STB pegs the project’s construction cost at $1.4 billion, including $532 million to build the 280-mile line, and $876 million to rebuild and upgrade approximately 600 miles of DM&E's existing line. The board also estimates mitigation costs at about $140 million. DM&E to date has spent $40 million developing the project.
DM&E still must raise finances for the project — which would create 5,000 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent positions — and gain approvals from U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, U.S. Department of Interior Bureaus of Land Management and Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard.
With all finances and approvals in place, Schieffer believes construction might start next year with operations beginning in 2005, adding 17 loaded and 17 unloaded daily trains to DM&E’s current three-daily-train operation.
Jeff Stagl

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/30/2002