Still workin' on the railroad

South Dakota State Roundup

Published July 1, 2002  | July 2002 issue

A federal court judge issued a preliminary ruling in late June that gives Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern (DM&E) Railroad Corp. a shot at raising funds for its railroad. DM&E had sued South Dakota over restrictions the state has placed on DM&E's expansion plans. State laws passed three years ago give the governor's office final approval over rights-of-way; DM&E claims that the statutes are unconstitutional and preempted by federal law. On June 20, a federal judge struck down parts of the state law, and railroad lawyers say that's enough of a green light to start approaching investors.

DM&E's controversial $1.5 billion project, approved by the national Surface Transportation Board in January, would build and refurbish track from Wyoming coal fields to the Mississippi River, passing through South Dakota and southern Minnesota. Supporters say it will provide needed coal to power plants around the country. Opponents counter that increased train traffic through local towns will diminish quality of life and harm the environment.

The federal ruling isn't final, though. The judge will hear still more evidence and may call for a trial.

Douglas Clement