In late 2005, the status of the state-owned rail system and the Railroad Trust Fund changed significantly. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad exercised its right to purchase 368 miles of state-owned track termed the "core line". Originally acquired from the Milwaukee Road in 1980, the core line had been leased by BNSF since 1986. The December 16, 2005 purchase not only infused $40 million into the Railroad Trust Fund, but also granted shippers along four short lines access rights to other lines via the core line and established attractive haulage and trackage rates for short line railroads operating over the BNSF owned core line.
Subsequent to the sale of the core line, the South Dakota State Legislature diverted $38 million from the Railroad Trust Fund, leaving a balance of $14 million (including funds available prior to the sale) to be managed by the Railroad Board.
In consideration of these recent changes, and of the ongoing need to maintain a sound rail plan for the benefit of the states economy, an update to the State Rail Plan is needed. The plan should not only satisfy the Federal Railroad Administrations standard requirements for state rail plans, but should also address important questions arising from recent events, such as:
What challenges and opportunities does the sale of the state core line present to shippers and rail operators?
How should management of remaining state rail assets change?
How will these changes affect other transportation modes, especially the state highway system?
What is the appropriate rail program level and what resources are needed to operate and sustain it?
How can the Railroad Board manage the Railroad Trust Fund to best support economic development through the use of railroads and rail facilities in the state?
Finally, the plan should provide guidance to enable the Railroad Board to establish well-founded policies and programs, lessening the need for ad hoc, case-by-case decisions and ensuring a sustainable rail program in the future.