Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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The DM&E Railroad has the support of people who see it as the great revitalizer for towns suffering decline, such as Huron. While the railroad may have ultimate merit, the questions raised by its critics are generally dismissed or totally ignored by the supporters.
A nagging aspect is the special legislation that permits DM&E to apply for a huge federal loan. While the main purpose of the railroad is to haul coal from mines to electrical generating stations, its plans include plenty of pork and privilege. That is troublesome, and leads to another question.
The biggest argument for the railroad is that it can be a big factor in our energy supply. While we hear so much about cutting our dependence on foreign oil and moving to cleaner sources of fuel, we are also constantly besieged with pronouncements of "experts" who say that we cannot make a mass conversion to clean, renewable fuels. Still, we heard one discussion from clean energy advocates that if we spent the same money on an energy infrastructure that we spent on the war on Iraq, we could build the needed powers lines to conduct windpower, convert to hydrogen fuel, develop and improve bio-based fuels, and utilize the advances made in solar power. But that raises the question of how much of a future the DM&E would have. Are the nay-sayers against alternative fuels trying to create a reason for enterprises like the DM&E in spite of the need and potential to convert to other fuels?
From the outset, the DM&E plan has raised questions about where it will run its tracks. One benefit that came from the abandonment of rail lines in the 1970s and the removal of tracks was that towns were made safer and rail traffic did not interfere with other forms of traffic. It was often said that if railroads made a comeback, there would have to be new requirements for safety and traffic flow about where they could run their tracks. That is the essential argument with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The folks there do not want a railroad to mess up the town and be the cause of traffic problems. People in Aberdeen, S.D., should understand that. They know the essential value of the Second Street overpass and can remember the hassles a few years back when the overpass was being replaced and they had to wait at rail crossings constantly. Where the tracks run is not a trivial consideration.
One other thing about the DM&E. Ask someone connected with Burlington Northern Santa Fe what their attitude is. Their attitude is that they can haul the coal east from Wyoming just as well as DM&E. And other rail lines out of Aberdeen into North Dakota and east are being upgraded to handle heavy grain and coal trains.
The concerns about the DM&E do not come from just the Mayo Clinic. Its competitors have some opinions and plans, too.