Railroad engine

A Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad engine waits for wheat cars to be filled in Pierre in this file photo taken during the 2014 wheat harvest.

Lance Nixon/Capital Journal

An executive for the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad said the start-up RCP&E is getting steadily better at moving grain this harvest – good news for farmers dealing with record wheat crops, good corn yields and some record sunflower yields.

“There is a tremendous amount of grain that needs to move, and RCP&E is working hard to help our customers, the elevators and farmers, to catch up as much as possible,” said Jerry Vest, senior vice president of government and industry affairs for Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services Inc. Genesee & Wyoming operates the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad, which got its start earlier this year.

Genesee & Wyoming Inc. bought 670 miles of track through the center of South Dakota and began operating the Rapid City, Pierre and Eastern Railroad in June of this year. The company bought the track – the west end of the former Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern – from the Canadian Pacific for about $210 million, plus about $7.5 million for some inventory, equipment and vehicles.

Vest said the line connects with the Canadian Pacific, the Union Pacific and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, so part of the challenge in handling the harvest is scheduling grain cars to connect with those other systems.

“Since the start-up of RCP&E on June 1 of this year, our weekly grain shipments going to connecting railroads has been very steadily increasing,” Vest said. “Two weeks ago we hit a record number of grain cars being given to connecting railroads (CP, BNSF, UP):  947,” Vest told the Capital Journal in an email. “This is a tremendous achievement by our RCP&E employees in South Dakota, and reflects a strong focus on safely improving the capacity of our operations.  It also is a result of us going well beyond our initial start-up operating plan, with more employees, locomotives, and cars. We have invested in the track structures of the railroad, eliminating many of the slow orders in place when we acquired the railroad from CP.”

According to a Genesee & Wyoming website, the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad has 670 miles of track between Tracy, Minnesota, and Rapid City; north of Rapid City to Colony, Wyoming; south of Rapid City to Dakota Junction, Nebraska; and connecting branch lines and track from Dakota Junction to Crawford, Nebraska.

Customers on the line ship about 52,000 carloads annually of grain, bentonite clay, ethanol, fertilizer and other products, the company says.

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