Friday, July 4, 2014

Today's Train Of Thought- Faded Glory, July 4th, 2014

Today's Train of Thought takes us to South Dakota and features a one-of-a-kind throwback that has withstood more than two decades of service on the harsh conditions of the Great Plains.

Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern SD40-2 SD40-2 #6359 started out life in 1974 as Milwaukee Road #193 and served the troubled class 1 until the Soo Line took over a little more than a decade later. By the early 1990s, a small fleet of secondhand SD40-2s were sold to Cedar Holdings' fairly new startup, the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern. The line operated hundreds of miles of secondhand former Chicago & Northwestern trackage across the state of South Dakota as well as parts of Wyoming, Nebraska and southern Minnesota. Although generating traffic was seldom a problem- the western end of the line generated aggregates, wheat, cement, Bentonite Clay and more recently, ethanol- the condition of the track and bridges between Pierre and Rapid City, SD restricted the DM&E to 10 MPH running. Still, in 2002 Cedar Holdings was ambitious enough to purchase the Washington Group's I&M Rail Link [parent company of the Montana Rail Link- NANESB!- a cluster of former Soo Line- nee Milwaukee Road- mainlines through the Midwest that linked the Twin Cities with Kansas City, MO and Chicago via Sabula, IA. The new railway was a sister company called the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern

Meanwhile, the DM&E was working on a project that would give them access to Wyoming's Powder River Basin and open up that state's coal fields to competition from a third rail carrier- breaking Union Pacific and BNSF's duopoly on the region. However, a number of obstacles had to be overcome before that could become a reality- such as the extremely slow track between Rapid City and Pierre and noise mitigation near the renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

As estimates for work on a completed line between Wyoming's coal fields and the Mississippi River at Winona, MN continued to skyrocket Canadian Pacific decided they should be the ones to step in and undertake such an endeavor, and purchased Cedar Holding's rail properties outright in 2008. Besides the proposed Powder River expansion, CP Rail got their former Milwaukee Road lines to Chicago, the Twin Cities, Kansas City and branchlines to Mason City and Sheldon, IA.

However, with the hostile takeover of CP Rail by the Pershing Square hedge fund in 2011 and the slumping demand for coal thanks in part to the onerous regulatory burdens placed on them by an EPA determined to kill off the coal industry, CPR lost their appetite for the Powder River expansion and by extension, much of the original DM&E trackage. By late 2012, much of the 600+ miles of Marshall, MN was placed for sale. In early 2013, CPR announced they had reached a deal with the Genesee & Wyoming family of shortlines to sell off the trackage between Marshall, MN and Colony, WY via Pierre and Rapid City, SD to form a new railway called the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern. Reportedly included in the transaction is a number of former DM&E SD40-2s to be used as power for the Genesee & Wyoming startup.

During CP's tenure at the helm of running the DM&E, it was often difficult to tell whether or not they had in fact taken over. Most of the trains still regularly sported former DM&E or ICE power and to makes things a little more confusing the Dakota, Minnesota & EAstern purchased a number of secondhand SD40-2s from Canadian Pacific- many of which were still painted CPR red but stenciled for the DM&E at the time of the Canadian Pacific takeover.

Moreover, the DM&E had a habit of naming some of their units after the towns the main line went through- SD40-2s were dubbed 'City of Wall' or 'City of New Ulm'. However, DM&E #6359 was a little different- in 1991, she was painted with a special mural of Mount Rushmore to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the national monument and dubbed the Mount Rushmore.

Despite the number of changes that have taken place over the DM&E in the last 20+ years, DM&E #6589 still sports the Mount Rushmore mural on her long hood. While it may not be included in the batch that CPR sent to the Genesee & Wyoming line, the #6359 still gets around plenty, making its way as far east as CSX's massive Selkirk yard outside of Albany, NY in the past few years as run-through power on unit ethanol trains.

Here, contributor Michael Polk caught the Mt Rushmore leading two other DM&E SD40-2s on an empty grain train on a branchline near Onida, SD on July 3rd, 2013. The final destination are the elevators just outside the town of Onida. This quintessential granger scene seems largely unchanged from the last 20 or so years, despite the presence of CPR red among the cornstalks.

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