A South Dakota official sees Amtrak service as unlikely

Costs, low population density likely to derail route proposals, transport secretary tells meeting

Map of the proposed passenger rail route from Denver to Minneapolis-St.  Paul via South Dakota
The proposed Denver-Twin Cities route in a recent Federal Railroad Administration report, one of two that would serve South Dakota. FRA

PIERRE, SD – South Dakota’s transportation secretary has added a sense of reality to the discussion about potential Amtrak service in the state.

That discussion came to life in February when two of the 15 routes South Dakota serves were included in a Federal Railroad Administration report on the ongoing Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study (see “FRA Releases Interim Report on Long-Distance Studies…, ” Trains News Wire, February 19, 2024). A Denver-Minneapolis/St. Paul route would cover most of the middle of the state, passing through Rapid City, Pierre and Sioux Falls. Sioux Falls would also serve a Phoenix-Twin Cities route via Kansas City and Omaha.

But the South Dakota Searchlight reports that Transportation Secretary Joel Jundt last week told an April 17 meeting of the state’s Railroad Authority Board that the project would cost “over a billion dollars and beyond,” and that the state’s population in 2013 approximately 919,000 inhabitants. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, its 46th-place ranking will likely prevent it from “risking reaching the top from a high-priority standpoint.”

Conceptually, passenger service “would be a great thing,” Jundt said. “But I think once they really understand the dynamics and the costs of doing this, it might not look as beneficial as just the concept.”

Jundt joined the meeting to discuss the FRA report as an informational topic for the board, which oversees South Dakota’s state railroads. No action was planned or taken

The FRA process will ultimately result in a final report with recommendations to Congress. There is currently no funding for the development of these routes associated with the process.