The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

December 3, 2012

Update: DM&E axes coal shipping project

MANKATO — A controversial plan to run as many as 13,000 additional trains through Mankato each year has been mothballed by the owners of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad, an apparent end to a 15-year effort by the railroad to become a major coal-hauling carrier.

Weakening demand for coal has prompted the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. to place on “indefinite deferral” any plans to extend the DM&E network into Wyoming’s coal-rich Powder River Basin  — an apparent death knell for a plan that prompted fierce opposition in Mankato, Rochester and some other towns along the route.

“CP took a careful look into the long-term prospects of the (Powder River Basin) for our railroad and, when considering the outlook of domestic thermal coal, we made what we feel is the prudent business decision” by axing the plans, CP spokesman Ed Greenberg told The Associated Press.

The South Dakota-based DM&E first announced its plans in 1997 to extend its track 260 miles around the Black Hills and into the coal fields of eastern Wyoming. The ambitious plan would have boosted the railroad’s daily train traffic through Mankato from two or three to as many as 34 mile-long trains — half of them coal-filled trains feeding power plants to the east,  half of them westbound empty trains returning to the Powder River Basin.

The DM&E’s plans were formed just before the resurgence of natural gas as a power source, and the energy economy has changed dramatically in recent years, said Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges.

“I think this was kind of a foregone conclusion,” Hentges said. “... I haven’t really heard much the last four years on it.”

A decade ago, it was one of the top issues in the city as Mankato officials worried about the impact of dozens of mile-long trains running each day through residential neighborhoods and adjacent to downtown.

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