Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Letter From BNSF to the Mayor of Sioux Falls

April 5, 2012

Mayor Mike Huether City of Sioux Falls 224 West 9th St. Sioux Falls, SD 57117-7402

Dear Mayor Huether:

Thank you for arranging to bring representatives of the City, U.S. Senate offices and consultants to Minneapolis on March 30 to discuss the Sioux Falls Yard Relocation project. We believe the meeting was very productive as a means to explain and understand each other’s goals and needs.

As noted at the meeting, this is the City’s project and BNSF will continue to cooperate to the extent we reasonably can. BNSF Railway’s primary objective is to maintain our current operating capability, capacity, and growth potential, to continue to serve rail customers in the region, with no interference with our overall rail network.

The purpose of this letter is to summarize BNSF Railway’s analysis of the various options and to put focus on BNSF’s preferred options of the Timberline Yard and a siding to the South of town.

Yard Location: Between the Timberline Yard and the E&E Yard options, Timberline Yard is the preferred location once the design details have been worked out with BNSF Engineering. At some point in the history of the project, the option of locating the yard south of town (in the area where the siding is currently being proposed) was removed from consideration. This option was not thoroughly discussed at the meeting and remains as a viable option. Relocation of the yard to the Corson Subdivision (northeast) necessitates the construction of additional infrastructure either as a wye connection or a siding to allow traffic to move from the Madison Subdivision to the Corson Subdivision (northwest to northeast).

Bridge Over River Options: Construction of a wye would also require construction of a bridge over the Big Sioux River. The bridge options currently envisioned posed significant engineering and operational problems. The bridges would have extreme track curvature plus steep descending and ascending grades. Those conditions would cause tremendous lateral forces on rail cars traversing the bridge and can increase the chances of derailment. An additional concern was the placement of switches on the bridges themselves. For these reasons we do not believe the bridge options are viable.

Siding Options: In lieu of a wye with bridge, a siding could be built, either extending a current industry track in the downtown area or construction of a new siding to the south of town.
The downtown siding option was taken off the table as it would be disruptive to the community. There would be excessive, long-term blockage of S Cliff Ave and Cherry Rock Park.

The two southern siding options remain as viable options. The siding would be on BNSF right of way and extend either from East 57th St. down to 85th or from East 69th St. to 271st. The first option appears preferable to BNSF. The second option poses concerns that must be researched. First, the city has expressed their desire to maintain access from the west for the neighborhood paralleling the main line. Building an overpass at 85th is an expensive proposition and has been estimated by the City at approximately $10 million. As discussed, the City should investigate creating access via 271st. The other concern is whether this more southerly location is within the “switching limits” of the yard. Under our labor agreements, this location could trigger additional operating costs.

The City suggested that rather than replace the infrastructure necessary for certain train movements, the City could compensate BNSF for the additional costs of crews, locomotives, fuel, etc., to perform those activities. Apparently it had been thought that such moves would be infrequent. As we noted, that is not the case and we anticipate the frequency will grow. This option would require us to do switching on our main line. That would interfere with our system network and run afoul one of our primary objectives. It would also be costly and less efficient, costing the city several hundred thousand dollars a year in labor costs in addition to over $1 million per locomotive. Crossings would also be blocked for extended periods of time, particularly in winter, for these movements.


As we explained at the meeting, since BNSF’s sole objective in this project is to preserve the same capability and capacity that we currently have while accommodating the City’s redevelopment efforts, there is no economic basis for BNSF to contribute to this project.

Over the years, BNSF has cooperated with the City in this effort, providing funding for the underpass project in Pasley Park, engineering work, assistance on real estate transactions and with federal regulatory issues involving track removal. It is our intent to maintain that cooperation as the City moves forward.

BNSF looks forward to continuing to work with the City on finalizing the MOU once these deal points are better refined, but please note that this letter is not intended to be binding upon BNSF and that nothing in this correspondence shall be deemed as a submission by BNSF to the jurisdiction of any state or local body or a waiver of the preemptive effect of any state or federal law.

We appreciate the city’s diligence in working with BNSF on this project.

Sarod Dhuru BNSF Railway
CC: City Council Chair Sue Aguilar, Sen. Tim Johnson, Sen. John Thune, Rep. Kristi Noem, Sweeney, Hegeman, Albanese, Wright, Perry, McBeth


  1. Jen, there seems to be a lot of blame being thrown around but this letter "sounds" like BNSF still wants to participate vs. being thrown under the bus by the city (which they have been). I see a private company being told to move and not hearing enough valid reasons to do so. What are we to take from this letter?

  2. Andy, you should be asking that of 'Mr. Transparency in City Government'

  3. Why hasn't the press printed this letter anywhere?

  4. BNSF has sensed Corporate Cuteness and Chicanery oozing from City Hall (it's that business acumen !).

    In a strong move to "take the wheel and drive the bus", rather than be thown beneath the bus, BNSF summons Team SF to a meeting and follows-up with direct and frank communication - leaving no illusion as to who is in charge.

    With reference to potential relocation of the rail yard, BNSF has no intention of being subject ot HisManMike's (TM) Manipulative Machinations !