Wednesday, September 30, 2009

All are on board train, but not DM&E railroad plan

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Consider it a housewarming party of sorts. The Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad showed off a newly rebuilt, 30-mile stretch of line to Rochester-area government officials , according to the Rochester, Minn.,  Post-Bulletin. And what better way to see the new tracks than from the upholstered comfort of one of DM&E's Pullman passenger cars?

"It's not like sitting in an airplane," DM&E President Vernon Graham told a group of passengers. "It's much smoother."

And so it was. Sitting in the rearmost car, farthest from the diesel engine, the sensation felt not too different than bobbing in a canoe on a fairly calm lake.

But if DM&E hoped that by showing its new line, it could get Rochester officials to retract their arguments for bypasses and against coal trains, well ... better luck next time.

Those "continue to be issues," said Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede. "To me, it (the ride) pointed out just how many cars do get stopped when a train comes through."

Graham brushed aside questions to do with Mayo Clinic's proposed Southern Rail Corridor or the railroad's potential plans to extend service to Wyoming coal fields, saying that the day was meant to focus on DM&E's roughly $15-million investment here.

Work began five months ago, Graham said, and employed about 70 people. The railroad installed more than 7,000 tons of new rail that meets the top-of-the-line industry standard and is expected to last a century or longer. The old rail was installed around 1916.

The new rail permits higher speeds -- 30 mph through Rochester, where trains used to go 10 mph. Improvements in Rochester and elsewhere on the line have helped shave 24 to 36 hours off the length of the trip to Chicago, Graham said.

"Which means a lot to the farmers out here, the customers on the line," he said.

DM&E is formerly an independent company, but now a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Railway, one of the largest railroad companies in the United States. As part of its purchase of DM&E, CP pledged to federal regulators to perform $300 million in capital investment. About one-quarter of that amount has been spent so far, said a CP spokesman.

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