Rapid City to Mitchell

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DM&E hopper cars are stored on the remaining grade leading into the DM&E yards in Rapid City. The red warning sign is the end of the usable trackage in Rapid City of the old Milwaukee mainline. Photo by Larry Gibson, March 2009.

A Milwaukee Road line once stretched across the southern part of South Dakota; it has since been abandoned around 1980, when the last train ran east out of Rapid City.

Today the tracks are inactive west of Mitchell, through Chamberlain, and on to Kadoka. From Kadoka to Rapid City, the tracks were removed and the grade is intact and owned by the state of of South Dakota.

Larry Gibson shares some of his photos of the abandoned line in the Rapid City area.

Thanks to Larry Gibson for contributing information about this route.

Very interesting article. It's a wonder that the rails are still there, although it might be a little DIFFICULT for a scrap scavenger to steal rails, possibly more than 100 pounds per foot. The Milwaukee had some great trains in the 1950s.

Neil Thornton
tawas city, MI
9/15/2009

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The rail Rapid City to Mitchell is 60 LB per 3 foot!

andy gekeler
Minnesota
12/22/2009

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The reason why Milwaukee Road stopped operating this line was due to bankruptcy proceedings which resulted in a great loss of there lines. They were officially bought out by the Canadian Pacific in 1985 although much of there tracks in Minnesota, North and South Dakota is owned and operated by the BNSF Railway. Burlington Northern, its predecessor did operate on this line til 85 when it was assumed by the Dakota Southern. They were doing a large amount of Bulk Grain Shipments for all the Grain Farmers till 2000 when BNSF changed there pricing structures. They did ran a grain train to Presho, South Dakota in 2007 and a coal train west of Mitchell for storage in January 2009. The new owners are attempting to reopen the line for a more efficient higher speed grain line due to the 60 pound rails and poor track conditions. (Trains can not even be operated in the middle of the day due to track concerns and much has a 10 mph speed limit and due to track conditions trains have to operate at even much less speeds). It might be possible that if the line restores profitability, BNSF might end up buying the line and absorb it to there network possibly all the way to Rapid City.

PS, much of the line from Kadoka to Rapid City is rail banked. It is banked in case if service can be restored. It saves from all of the hassle to start over from scratch.

Jason T
Perham, MN
5/14/2010

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I work at the plant in Mitchell served by this line.It is under new ownership and a three year restoration is planned from Mitchell to Murdo.I grew up in Wagner along the Platte to Napa Jnct.line in the 80's when Dak.Southern was also operating this line.Both of these lines need to resume operation because the enormous amount of grain produced in this region is all moved by truck to Sioux City and our highways get pounded to death.

Chad Anderson
Mitchell, SD
5/22/2010

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Dakota Southern is still operating from Mitchell to Chamberlain and is storing grain cars and coiled steel cars for per diem. Saw many cars at White Lake, Kimbal, and Chamberlain yards today.

West of Chamberlain and the Missouri River Bridge the route railbanked to Kadoka

Larry Gibson
Rapid City, SD
9/27/2010

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A couple of years ago they pulled up the rails from Rapid City to Farmingdale and built a bike trail. A local group is hoping to extend the trail all the way to Kadoka.

Butch Knouse
Lake Preston, SD
6/10/2011

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I wish they would resume service on this line, perhaps even for tourists, like the 1880s train only large scale from Mitchell to Rapid City. It is a very senic line.

Frank
Sioux Falls, SD
6/29/2011

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The rail line from Mitchell to Chamberlain is currently being restored. Drove by the line last week and they were replacing ties and switching the line from 60 pound per yard to 115-130 per yard. Eventually they would like to restore the line further west.

The reason for the restoration is for grain elevators to use the line. A lot of grain is raised in the Chamberlain/Kimball area and at least 2 groups have expressed interest in putting up a large elevator in the Chamberlain area.

Joseph Voigt
Spearfish, SD
9/12/2011

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Actually that won't be a bad idea. What use to be 10 mph, soon the Dakota Southern could operate up to 25-40 possibly 49 mph on it's line from Mitchell to Chamberlain, SD. If it continues to be profitable, the whole line from Mitchell to Rapid City could be restored. That might end up attracting a purchase from BNSF Railway.

Jason Trosvig
Ottertail, MN
10/3/2011

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I did an extensive photo study of line from Mitchell to Kadoka in September 2010. Use this link for 3 pages of pics:

http://railroadfan.com/gallery/thumbnails-1550.html

Also another album with Rapid City operations over the last several years.

Use this link:

http://railroadfan.com/gallery/thumbnails-1241.html

Click on Thumbnails for full photos

Larry Gibson
Rapid City, SD
6/1/2012

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The West River Trails Coalition is proposing the Railbanked segment from Rapid City to Kadoka be used as a recreational rail trail like the Mickelson Trail. https://www.facebook.com/WestRiverTrailsCoalition

Alex DeSmidt
Rapid City, SD
3/1/2015

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Funding is available and materials are being delivered to extend the Dakota Southern from Chamberlain, SD to Presho, SD.

Work will start this year.

Ground has already been broken at Kennebec, SD for a new grain handling facility.

Hope my father is looking down on all of this. He was a Telegrapher, Operator, and Station Agent for the CMStP&P RR Iowa, Minnesota, and Dakota Division from 1935 until his retirement in 1975. Slept, ate and lived for it and his job. He retired in Oacoma, SD and lived close to the main line. Waited and watched for every train and could always tell you how many cars on each train

He was very good friends with Alex Huff former owner of Dakota Southern. I know Alex very well and we both live here in Oacoma, SD. See him fairly often always has time to talk about railroads.

Charles R Kentch
Oacoma, SD
5/26/2015

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The line has been rebuilt from Mitchell to 1 mile west of Presho. New grain facilities have been constructed at Kimball and Kennebec. Motorcars still operate the US83 to Kadoka segment.

David Voeltz
Pierre, SD
3/2/2017

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I want to add that the line from Mitchell to Kennebec is back in service and the speed limit has been raised from 10 MPH to 25 MPH when the track classification went from Exception Track to Class 2 after restoration was complete on this line. It runs both Shuttle Trains and Local Runs again. So the line between Mitchell and Kennebec is no longer abandoned. I would update this article with the more recent info.

Jason
Hillsboro, ND
4/2/2017

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The state owns the right of way from Rapid City to Kadoka. The Dakota Southern has tracks from Mitchell to Kadoka. From there West, the state pulled up tracks; BUT, I read last night that from Rapid City East 5 miles, tracks are still in (don't know for sure though). My company has opened talks with the state on either leasing or buying the right of way; so that shippers of the Dakota Southern could save, on shipments going West. I used to own a transportation museum; and if I get the line, will at first begin setting up a transportation museum and tourist railroad. Once the line gets to Kadoka, then turn it into a tourist and switching railroad. I have sent the new CEO of Dakota Southern information informing him of my efforts. I knew the Huff's; and unfortunately Dick Huff died several years ago. They wanted to do excursions; but the line was not in good enough condition to do them. In the 1990's, I tried to go to work for Kevin Kosner to manage his proposed line; but his business manager wanted someone that would be so over qualified, that they could get a far better job with one of the major railroads; and earn far more. There are a lot of abandoned lines in the country with trees growing through the trackage. If I get the SD line, I will be approaching the right of way owners of those former 30+ years abandoned lines to acquire "miles" of used rail. Part of the operation will be for profit; and the museum will have a nonprofit group in it. I have not heard anything about a bike path though. While I ride a bike, unless the line has a "wide" rw, for safety, a bike path with trains on it is not to my liking. If it's wide, I'll look for used chain link fencing and section off part for bike & hiking. Insurance costs to me would jump through the roof, if it was not fence separated. If anyone is in the area and would like to ba a part of it, please feel free to email me.

Don Kirk
Redding, CA
4/7/2017

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Speak of the devil and up he jumps. First off, my brother Dick is alive and well. The state retains ownership of the right of way from current end of track at Kadoka to where the remaining ex-MILW track in Rapid City is still in place which the state still owns. All Milwaukee Road track acquired by the state of South Dakota was by quit claim deed after the MILW ceased service on everything in the state except the main line across the northern portion of the state to Miles City, MT. There may be a one quarter mile gap, owned by the Federal government, on the land banked right of way between Kadoka and Rapid City. This is part of the Badlands National Park and protects the intermittent creek which drains to the south. I have seen the Park fences across the right of way, complete with stiles so hikers can go up and over the fences. The land banked right of way is not maintained as a trail. The various wooden pile bridges have been stripped of rail as part of the salvage by Commercial Metals out of Dallas, TX years ago. At least one bridge is minus its bridge ties, stolen for corral fenceposts, which landed a couple of guys in jail. The state did stabilize the through truss bridge on the line. It crosses the Cheyenne River. Work was done at the behest of a Rapid City based bicycle club who were taking the long view that the right of way would become a hiking/biking trail akin to the paved conversion of the CB&Q/BN north-south r-o-w in the Black Hills.

A couple of comments about excursion train rides. My first railroad job was on a steam powered excursion, Diesel-powered shortline in Michigan. Later, I was construction manager for the folks which owned the Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway in Eureka Springs, AR. A couple of basic rules of thumb. Train ride not to exceed 45 minutes. Hourly departures on the hour. Length of ride not important, 15 mph works with open equipment. Two of the "scenic highlights" on the ES&NA were the sewage treatment plant and the dog pound and the ride sold 100,000 tickets/yr in its best years. Gift shop should stock a price range of items from postcards to $400 Handlan-Buck marker lights. Gift shop gross should be equal to 50% of ticket sales. Plenty of clean rest room capacity. The ES&NA built a separate building adjacent to a historic stone depot solely for restrooms. Above all, clean and neat public areas and equipment. Mom probably doesn't have much interest in the locomotive but she sure notices the environment her kids are exposed to. Every promoter of an excursion train ride uses the Strasburg RR in Pennsylvania as the gold standard. It is, but it took a lot of years to get there and in the beginning investors passed the hat to buy gas for the two axle Plymouth locomotive. Location, location, location. You need to be visible from a major traffic artery, preferably an Interstate. Chamberlain fits. DSRC hosted a few passenger runs by an under financed operator. Trains loaded within sight of I90 and promptly crossed the longest bridge on the Milwaukee Road. It crosses the dammed Missouri River and is slightly less than a mile long. Billboards. The reason there are so many is they are effective. Your market is the vacation family on its way somewhere else. In South Dakota it is the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. The only train rides that are a vacation destination to my knowledge are the narrow gauge Durango & Silverton in southwest Colorado and to a lesser extent its nearby competitor, the narrow gauge Cumbres & Toltec Scenic which crosses between Colorado and New Mexico.

Lastly, dinner trains. Visible location not important, easy to get to with safe, secure parking is. Catering, literally, to a different adult market. The meal is a special occasion, a professional chef is a plus. Reservations required, with entrees ordered when reservation is made. This minimizes food waste/expense. Wines as an option. Trip time, about an hour and a half, twenty minutes to clean between trips, ten minutes to load. Two evening trips, three if the market supports it. You will have your choice of competent wait staff if they know their tables will turn three times which means more tips. Waiters are traditional in dining cars. Lights beneath the cars illuminating the right of way reduce the tunnel effect within a diner after dark. Train speed, slow. Don't spill the soup. Kitchen on board vs. catered. Beyond my limited expertise. Catering can be contracted with a competent local restaurant, with warming ovens on board where the meals are plated at one end of the car. Dinner trains are akin to banquets, where food needs to be served quickly.

Alex Huff
Oacoma, SD
4/8/2017

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Glad to hear Dick is still alive. The last I heard from you (Alex), for some reason I thought he had died (retired I guess you stated). When I lived in Mitchell in about 96, I had communicated a couple of times with Dick. At that time you only had about 2 miles that were possible as tourist runs. Since then, about 2006, I moved to Sheridan Oregon and opened the Oregon Transportation Museum; but when 3 years rental agreement was up the landlord suddenly changed my rental agreement (it was verbal and not written) and then needing back surgery and a hip replacement, I closed it. Finally had both surgeries last year. I recently learned that the line west of your former line was owned by SD DOT; and that they would like someone to reopen it; although they had pulled the track. With a Dakota Southern connection, that may have shippers that would like Westward shipments (Dakota Mill & Grain); and their having two other mills on the untracked section, that might like rail service, that would add to the tourist running and transportation museum. I wish you still owned Dakota Southern; as Excursions would be possible out of Mitchell. There again, if I get the Rapid City end and connect to the Dakota Southern, a once a year or more full run between Rapid City and Mitchell might be possible. Who knows, Amtrak might (if their funding is not cut) help to make it a class I line; and add passenger service; or SD DOT might want a commuter run the length.????? At least wishful thinking. I have a couple of streetcars; that will be in the museum; and hopefully I can get a power station for them. I have 1/3 mile of overhead wire hangers in my storage unit and would love to put them up and use them. Sold my switch stands; but the abandoned like I'm in talks with to get the track I'll need, has a couple of switch stnds on it. I sent the new DS manager an email as to my now seeking the Kadoka to Rapid City segment; but have not heard anything back yet. Also notified the Mill that if they'd like service on that section, to get me some letters so stating. Just started the communications with DOT this week; and I'll have to do a formal proposal, environmental impact report, etc. and that takes awhile. Any support I can get in the meantime is appreciated. Also, if anyone knows of any Milwaukee road, DME railcars/units that might be available; please let me know. Thanks!

Don Kirk
Redding, CA
4/8/2017

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As someone who currently lives in Rapid, I can tell you that getting the line running again will be difficult. From what I can tell, the only crossing that hasn't been paved over is the one in the photos. That, and not all of the track is in tact out of town, and I don't actually know where the rail ends - somewhere between Green Valley and Caputa. It seems there are some stretches in between that are missing rail as well, such as under the highway 16 bypass in Rapid Valley, various other crossings, and a parking lot near the Star of the West sports complex(among others). However, the latter is the only place where the ROW is physically obstructed, and considering it's a gravel lot, it shouldn't bee too troublesome to clear, and the state and city will most likely be willing to work with you on these issues. Also, the claims that part of the line have been turned in a bike path are not true. I've driven along most of the ROW, and haven't seen any trace of a trail or bikers.

Ian Gaida
Rapid City, SD
5/1/2017

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First, the right of way is NOT rail banked. The state bought the line to keep it from being permanently rail banked; as they want it back in use. I know this, as about 3 weeks ago, my company started talks with SD DOT, to get operating rights on the right of way. At first an operating transportation museum, then as the tracks are replaced into the Badlands a tourist train operation; and once the complete line is re-tracked, freight; which will then give the Dakota Southern more options for getting new freight customers; as they will be able to ship Westward, without having shipments go East first. I might add, that the 98.5 mile line from Rapid City to Kadoka is long enough to support a transportation museum on each end; as well as train excursions into the Badlands. This has been in study and planning for the past 3 1/2 years. We will be purchasing used 110 lb.+ track from other abandoned lines and selling the old ties to a landscaping company to cover the cost of shipping the rails to this line. Anyone interested in helping getting the line approved and or helping start one of the museums, can email us. newmilwaukeeroad@gmail.com

Donald Kirk (Don)
West Coast, OR
5/14/2017

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