Editorial Roundup: Derailed railroad plans bring relief

Published 10:15 am Monday, December 10, 2012

Market forces prompted the proposed railroad expansion that could have brought more than 30 coal trains rumbling through Rochester every day. In the end, market forces have put that extended rail network to rest indefinitely.

The announcement last Monday that Canadian Pacific Railway will drop its plans to extend its South Dakota-based Dakota Minnesota & Eastern Railroad network is a relief to Rochester officials and Mayo Clinic leaders who have opposed the project since it was announced in 1998, expressing safety concerns for patients and health-care workers.

Now, nearly 15 years later, CP spokesman Ed Greenberg cited weakened demand for domestic coal because of low natural gas prices and last year’s mild winter for suspending the proposed extension.

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Wyoming is the leading coal producer in the United States, but the state projects coal output is on pace to decline 8.7 percent in 2012.

CP continued to push the expansion plan after buying DM&E in 2007. Included in the $1.5 billion sale were 2,500 miles of track and the option to expand into the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana, the largest coal mining region in the United States.

DM&E planned to add 260 miles of track from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the Wyoming coal fields. If the plan had come to fruition, up to 30 to 40 trains carrying coal would have traveled daily through Rochester.

CP plans to continue running two to four trains per day through Rochester. The trains carry “mixed freight,” mostly grain or steel, but not coal.

Greenberg said the energy transportation market is changing rapidly. CP has started moving crude oil from North Dakota and Montana, but it has not moved any through Rochester. The railroad also has started moving silica sand mined in western Wisconsin on the DM&E network.

Olmsted County Commissioner Ken Brown, a member of the Rochester Coalition that opposed the railroad expansion, called the announcement a “good deal” for Rochester, but he warned CP could sell the tracks, and a new buyer could revive the Powder River Basin plan.

“It could be a long time before anything could happen,” Brown said. “It looks like it’s not something to worry about imminently.”

Until the energy market changes again.

— Rochester Post-Bulletin, Dec. 5

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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