South Dakota railroads date back to 1872 when the original Dakota
Southern Railroad completed its main line between Vermillion and Sioux
City, Iowa a distance of roughly 37 miles. Interestingly, the idea for
the railroad began in January of 1872 and by early fall that same year
it was completed and in operation. The Dakota Southern would eventually
become part of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad
(predecessor to the company today commonly known as the Milwaukee Road).
Following the Dakota Southern the Mount Rushmore State would find
itself home to well-known Midwestern railroads like the Milwaukee Road,
Chicago & North Western Railway, CB&Q and CRI&P.
While what remains of South Dakota's rail network is mostly owned by BNSF and CP there are several smaller companies in operation there as well. These include regional Dakota, Missouri Valley & Western Railroad and short lines D&I Railroad, the new Dakota Southern Railway, Ellis & Eastern Railroad, Sisseton Milbank Railroad, Sunflour Railroad, and the Twin Cities & Western.
South Dakota railroads today operate just 1,800 miles of a network that
once featured more than 4,200 miles. Having lost 57% of its railroad
infrastructure since the 1920s the state is far above the average
declined during that time for most states which ranges between 45% to
50%. Much of this loss can probably be explained by the fact that
agriculture has always played such a large role for the state's economy
and railroads began to lose a lot of this business following World War
II. For a more in-depth look at the state's rail mileage over the years
please take a look at the chart below. While South Dakota railroads do
not include many museums or tourist railroads they do feature the
famous Black Hills
Central Railroad which operates the last running Mallet, a 2-6-6-2T
As for passenger train services, historically only the Milwaukee Road's transcontinental Olympian Hiawatha traveled through South Dakota as competitors Great Northern and Northern Pacific
traveled through North Dakota with their important streamliners.
Unfortunately, today, Amtrak provides no services in the state. In all, South Dakota railroads include some interesting and
unique operations on a beautiful backdrop setting of our country's
Northern Plains region. While railroading here is not as prolific as it
once was you will quite likely enjoy seeing that which remains, from
main line railroading to local shortline operations.
If you enjoy the state's history with trains you might like the book South Dakota Railroads
by authors Mike Wiese and Tom Hayes. The title comes from Arcadia
Publishing's "Images of Rail" series and primarily features a collection
of historic photos through 128 pages. Although they do not contain
much text I have several of Arcadia's titles from this series in my
collection and have thoroughly enjoyed all of them for the pictures
alone (all of which are featured in black and white). If you're
interested in perhaps
purchasing the book please visit the link above which will take you to
ordering information through Amazon.com.
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