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Tracking the Plains
By Mainstreet Radio
Minnesota Public Radio
March 11, 2002

It's been 100 years since this country has seen a major railroad expansion. A small regional rail carrier, the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad has won federal approval for a $1.5 billion expansion, which would put it in direct competition with two of the country's largest railroads.

DM&E wants to lay 300 miles of new track from Wyoming's Powder River Basin to its existing line in western South Dakota. The access to the Powder River Basin's low sulfur coal is the key to DM&E's survival. The railroad will also upgrade 600 miles of existing track across South Dakota and Minnesota.

DM&E train
The Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad has received final approval from the federal government to expand its operation through four states - creating controversy in each of them.
(Photo courtesy of DM&E)

Wooing Rochester

The president of the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad was in Rochester March 13, making the case for his railroad's expansion plan. The city of Rochester and the Mayo Clinic have been its most vocal adversaries.

Finding the money

The DM&E Railroad's expansion plan is an ambitious one - and some say it's so ambitious it will never happen. What's behind the plan is the determination of one man - DM&E's President Kevin Schieffer.
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Towns on the line

In the late 1800s, the railroad brought new residents to young cities and towns. Trains hauled carloads of crops to previously inaccessible markets. Soon industry followed, lining the tracks like magnets. Now the DM&E's expansion plan has many communities along the line contemplating their roots.
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Farmers vs. ranchers

DM&E officials have been quick to point out how a new coal-hauling operation would help ease the country's energy woes. But the new track won't just haul coal. Farm commodities make up much of the railroad's current business, and that would expand along with the DM&E. The rail project has created a split between two groups that usually agree - farmers and ranchers.
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Disturbing history?

Opponents of the DM&E project have sprung up along the route for that new section of railway. They are ranchers concerned about tracks cutting through their land, and Native Americans who say the project will trample all over treaty rights. Another point of opposition may be found just under the surface of the ground.
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