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Report on the abandonment of a hundred-mile branch line railroad track in southeastern Minnesota and how that abandonment would affect the communities, residents and businesses along its route. Minnesota has about 7,000 miles of rail lines - that figure was 8,000 miles just over ten years ago. Since then, rail line abandonment has increased, and the pace of abandonment is picking up. Railroads operating in the state have requests before the Interstate Commerce Commission that 400 miles of track be scuttled. Minnesota officials say another 300 miles of line may become moribund in the next three years. One of the requests before the ICC is that a 100-mile branch line in Southeastern Minnesota be abandoned. The track follows the root river from La Crescent on the Mississippi River to Ramsey just north of Austin in Mower County. The rail serves 12 communities and about 50 businesses. But Milwaukee Road officials say the line is a loser because there isn't enough traffic. MPR's John Gaddo of KLSE in Rochester visited some of the businesses along the track and prepared this report.

Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.

I'm opposed to the Benjamin for the simple reason that I do feel that it's going to hurt each Community to a certain extent and right now we don't know what's going to happen three years online five years down the line maybe in the future. With our highways getting overcrowded and that maybe we'll have to go back to rails if we could get cars to load grains why we could be paying $0.15 more per bushel for corn. And about the same for beans to I mean we can pay the farmer about 15 cents a bushel more than what he's getting right now. They're pulling the van. So I just like to buy the human veins out of the body if they pull all of Vince off the Audrey's will no longer be needed because I'll be nothing to run on him. Anyway realign abandonment is increasing throughout the country because of the Federal Railroad revitalization and Reform Act the ACT, which went into effect in 1976 was adopted by Congress to help railroad companies rid themselves of unproductive Branch lines since filing for bankruptcy in late 1977. The Milwaukee Road has made extensive use of the ACT Milwaukee Road officials indicate that many of their Branch lines are a financial burden on the rest of their system. And as part of their restructuring plans, they're eliminating many of these lines to La Crescent to Ramsey line is one of nine Branch lines at the Milwaukee Road has identified for abandonment in Minnesota Richard Martinez director of the company's abandonment program. He says that this line is typical of other lines, they believe she Abandoned Ryan requires extensive Rehabilitation. The revenues generated on the line is not sufficient to cover the cost of operating the line. So that's the reason that's all of our lines in Minnesota or any other state is is up for abandonment. We're getting rid of the unproductive part of the system. That will not support the cost that it takes to operate and maintain it Richard Martin opponents of the abandonment charge that the Milwaukee Road has failed to maintain the line and provide adequate service which has discouraged its use the Milwaukee Road argues that because of insufficient volume of traffic Rehabilitation cannot be justified and that even with Rehabilitation the line will not produce a reasonable return on any investment in Rehabilitation opponent disagree early last year the river City's shippers and receivers Association a group of local business Representatives. Join together to fight the abandonment Bourdain Heinz owner of a houston-based lumber company and chairman of the association says abandonment seems to be a result of mismanagement. The railroad has let the line deteriorate over so many years they have done very little to to upgrade the railroad or to maintain it. know if I get a car of shingles from Illinois They will go through LaCrosse go to Minneapolis back to Austin and down in Houston. In other words. They're putting on 310 miles where they could go 26. So to me, it's it's not necessarily the fact that the railroad is losing money. It's gross mismanagement of what the health area legislators are also distressed over the Milwaukee Road abandonment petition. I are representative. Al Weezer of La Crescent says that service is needed in the area and that the financial status of the railroad should not be the basis for abandonment of the Milwaukee Railroad. And I can understand their Necessities to obtain some cash for the operation of the company of but I think if you're going to deprive the wrong 100 mile trail ride the use of girl Transportation because an F in C company needs cash. I think it's a poor reason the bankruptcy is is a reason but I think is more properly called an excuse in a very poor excuse for a man and the other reasons that they given needs and the petition to the ICC is that there is not sufficient enough business on a trail Ryan to continue service. I think the question should be asked for the railroad. What are you doing to to help business to encourage this? And I think that has received the last few years have done very little. In fact, they have proceeded on action that would discourage business. I had a very good example what happened this past summer, they told us that they could not bring cars in from the Eastern end because of a bridge down crossing the river at hookah. However, when the washed out last July at Lanesboro, they couldn't bring the car so that way we had I think was two cars of fertilizer that the creamery had ordered in the creamery told the railroad you will deliver the fertilizer to Houston. Therefore, they sent their engines. There's another case of gross mismanagement. They sent engines from Austin to Dubuque to Lacrosse to pull those up from the Eastern terminal which to us proved that the bridge was, okay. That they just didn't want to use. Verdine Hines preceded by representative Al Weezer. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has also taken a position in the abandonment of this line, but unlike the residents in the affected communities the. Supporting the Milwaukee Road Cecil Selma's chief of the. Railroad development section says their first concern lies with the Milwaukee Road bankruptcy predicament and part of our concern in evaluating real lions is the rail service to people on Branch lines and then lines that are to be abandoned the were concerned about real service to everybody in the state. So when we look at a real line, we have to look about the continuing viability and potential for service by the real companies. Telemachus being a bankruptcy is a real concern to us this explains that losing a few Branch lines might very well ensure continuation of other service to Minnesota by the Milwaukee Road. He went on to say that the DDOT agrees with the rail companies claims that the La Crescent to Ramsey Branch line is unproductive is in poor physical condition and would cost an excessive amount to upgrade to current standards what really caused the problem is that that is an extremely long line. It was believed about a hundred miles long is a Ford sell. So I'm looking at those factors and the alternative transportation services available in the area. We felt it was in the best interest of the state to support the environment Cecil selness, but representative Al Weezer disagrees and says that abandonment is not in the best interest of the state. With the abandonment of the the crescents Ramsey line, it will mean that almost all of Houston County all the Fillmore County and a good portion of our Connie will be without real transport and I had to leave that price of an area without real transportation is going to greatly hinder any economic growth that might occur and Weezer. Most of the areas Business Leaders agreed that abandonment of the look Crescent to Ramsey rail line will have some long-range adverse effects, but I'm considering the immediate effects opinions vary. I surveyed the management of some of the creameries fertilizer plants grain elevators lumber yards and oil cooperatives that have used the line in the past. I found it if the Interstate Commerce Commission does approve the abandonment the impact will vary from business-to-business affect us quite a bit of specially like fertilizer. We get most of our fertilizer in by Hopper cars. it would be no additional cost, you know if we had to haul it from Some other station or something probably 5 to $8 a tonne extra expense. And you know, we're talkin about three thousand tons. A year, so that would be quite an additional expense manager of the hunting elevator in Grand Meadow, but it's more than the cost of shipping and receiving a farm materials that will increase the price of building materials from some lumber yards will also go up while we're bernsdorf manages. The Hoka Implement & Lumber Company in Hoka is the lumber. I mean the lumber party at but that's on the way here because we get Lumber in by rail. It's so that's a no cheaper in the freight. That's about the size of it to what degree is this going to affect your operation here will have to that will affect the cost will be felt by more than farmers and contractors in Rushford herb Thompson of the Tri-County Electric Cooperative says, they too will feel the effects there. When I come on today that we do give two courses of polls might have been coming by rail. On the average anywhere from 800 to 1000 Foles a year which amounts to go anywhere from 7 to 13 Carlos. and for us to do this by truck Probably it would take three semi loads to make one real car. increase cost of shipping from the south probably two to three dollars a pole. Please increase costs that of course I going to be passed on to the consumers. It will affect that all the cost for the construction or maintenance whatever it may be would then increase soon that will show up in the cost of service to the customer and the customers are one little baseboards. Perhaps the biggest impact of this rail abandonment will be felt by Jennings Scrap yard in Spring Valley Wilbur Jennings owns the business. He says that if the railroad goes so will his scrap yard the main use for the real lion in the scrapyard ship steel scrap my real Deal meals require railroad delivery of this crap. They don't want truck delivery. How much do you rely on the railroads? How much is a material that you were shipping out went by real? Why was over a hundred carloads a year as a general rule the soup percentage-wise? Five years ago at 100% went by RaeLynn and the last year 40% went by rail. The decrease was caused by the schedule service. They reduce their schedule. They didn't they didn't come on a regular schedule and they didn't come more than once a week. Can't you can't operate that way even though he faced is closing his Spring Valley yard, Jennings realizes that the Milwaukee Road is not entirely at fault like this people get hurt, but don't blame the railroads entirely. They haven't been they have they been over-regulated. They have been supported good enough at over-regulation is kill them. They couldn't do it had to be done and every time they got off a little help. It was always too late financial support you're talking about sure. They had to have a financial support. They had to have Freight Freight raise if the ICC and different commissions, they were always holding back and giving them feeding him up with a needle feeding Weatherspoon. They weren't giving them a full meal if they couldn't they couldn't go Case of too little too late elevator manager burn Hagee agrees, but I'm sure if there would have been box cars and stuff on this line and they would have got a lot more business. I mean, they would have been a lot more green loading and stuff like that and I'm sure they would have you know, I've been all right as far as Expenses and stuff but there just wasn't enough loading on this line on kind of the car shortage on the other hand some agree with shippers and receivers Association chairman verdane Hines questioning the Milwaukee Road Financial grounds for abandonment Dennis Dar manager of the Tri-County oil Association in Rushford weather. There's no reason for it if they would provide service instead of looking for reasons why it wouldn't go provided service and did the job. There's no no reason to Railroad cannot make money the general consensus of those I talked with was that as businessman. They can understand Milwaukee Rhodes reasons for abandoning the La Crescent to Ramsey Branch line, although they don't entirely agree with it. Their biggest concerns are over future industrial expansion growing communities and the increased need for bulk Transportation, but in applying for abandonment the Milwaukee Road indicated, they could foresee no dramatic growth of industry and in some Open the application. The Minnesota Department of Transportation said there are sufficient means of alternative transportation in the area abandonment of this line is now pending before the Interstate Commerce Commission. A decision is expected in two to three months. If abandonment is denied it's expected to be several years before the line is rehabilitated if it's approved the big question is what happens to the right of way. It could be embargoed for a few years to see if the need for a short line company would materialize it could be purchased by the state for a recreational trail or it could be sold to a budding landowners for Farm use from Rochester. I'm John Gatto.


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