This section contains information on the rail system in South Dakota including: basic information about mileage and commodities shipped, a current rail map for the state as well as information on all the carriers that have routes in or through South Dakota.
A total of 4,420.5 miles of railroad were constructed in South Dakota, with the last track laid
in 1948. Since 1909, rail abandonment's have resulted in the loss of service on over 75% of the
maximum system. The State of South Dakota, in cooperation with private railroads, was successful
in restoring service on over 900 previously abandoned rail lines in the state. Currently there are
1,839.5 miles of operating rail lines in South Dakota.
State-Owned Railroad System
As a result of the Milwaukee Road embargo in 1980, South Dakota was confronted with the
loss of over fifty percent of its total operating rail mileage. The State analyzed each
line individually and identified the essential rail lines vital to the economy of South
Dakota. Some of the embargoed essential lines were purchased by other railroads and
service was restored. The remaining essential lines for which a private solution could not
be found were purchased by the State.
At its inception, South Dakota's rail acquisition fell into three categories of lines:
- Core System
- Local Option Lines
- Main Line
Each category was considered an essential part of the State's overall transportation system. Figure 8 highlights the state-owned rail lines.
Local Option Lines (operating)
There are four state-owned local option lines currently in operation. The D & I
Railroad operates on two local option lines between Canton and Elk Point (49.7 miles) and
between Beresford and Hawarden, IA (16.9 miles). Dakota Southern Railway operates 190
miles between Mitchell and Kadoka. The DMVW operates between Aberdeen and Geneseo Jct., ND. Each of these operations has been important to the communities they serve, allowing for the continuation of rail service where Class I
railroads found it unprofitable.
Local Option Lines (non-operating)
There are two state-owned rail segments currently in non-operating status. The 82.4
mile Napa Jct. to Platte line had operations restored intermittently between 1985 and 1989
but has not been operated since. The 98.5 mile Kadoka to Rapid City line
has not had rail operations restored since 1980. The rail, ties, and bridges was salvaged beginning in 1996, however, the State retained the right-of-way of the line for future railroad development.
The third category of state-owned rail line was the South Dakota Main Line which ran
480 miles from Ortonville, MN through Aberdeen to Terry, MT. The ownership of the Main
Line was transferred to the Burlington Northern in August 1991.
The most significant justification for a continued state-owned railroad system in
critical areas of South Dakota is a function of economics. Agriculture, which is South
Dakota's principal industry, needs an efficient bulk carrier system to transport crop
production to markets. It is more cost-effective to move farm commodities long distances
by railroad than by truck. With reliable rail service, South Dakota's producers are
afforded access for their products to international markets at the lowest possible farm to
In November 2005, the State sold the Core System (Aberdeen to Mitchell, Mitchell to Canton, Canton to Sioux Falls, and Mitchell to Sioux City) to BNSF.