I work on the DM&E. Here's what I can say for certain: The rumor mill is the only well-oiled machine.
But isn't the small yard at Tracy usually full of cars for Tracy Cement and ergo would require the addition of a couple more tracks for interchange purposes?
The Tracy yard is very small, and a pass track accommodates all trains stopping their for crew change. I've never seen any major congestion issues there. Also, there's no cement there. I don't know from where that idea came. There's a small elevator there in town that occasionally takes in a few cars here and there. The New Ulm wayfreight job handles that. There's a wye track there, a maintenance-of-way office, and...a garden hose for watering locomotives. That's about it.
The DM&E east of Tracy is still very profitable. Personally, I think everything up to Pierre is profitable, but I'm not Harrison. Indeed, there is serious frack sand speculation around St. Charles, MN, on the far-east end about halfway between Minn City and Rochester. Two of the three ethanol plants on the DM&E are east of Tracy (I don't know from where those other plants listed came), one at Janesville and one at Lamberton. The third is in South Dakota at Aurora, and I believe it's slightly larger that the other two. There are FOUR elevators that take in unit grain trains: New Ulm (downtown), Harvestland Co-op (east of Springfield), Lamberton and Walnut Grove. These are BNSF unit grain trains that transfer to the DM&E at Florence, just west of Tracy. The BNSF power stays with the train. In the last six weeks or so, we've had a couple of unit KCS grain trains come up from Mason City, but not with KCS power. We've heard that Union Pacific just recently outbid BNSF on these elevators, but so far we haven't seen any actual evidence of this.
There is virtually nothing west of Pierre until you get to Rapid City where you have a cement plant, not sure how much it still ships by rail. Then at the far end of the line you have the Bentonite Clay processing plants. They produce a reasonable volume of traffic, but the tariff is low and the distance to Huron is significant, if the plant produce a more valuable product that could afford a higher rail tariff then CP might not be looking to sell, but the revenue from hauling the Bentonite doesn't cover the costs of track maintenance west of Pierre. Short hauling the Bentonite to Crawford, NE (BNSF) is better.
This is correct. The clay is good business, but the track between Pierre and Rapid City is horse crap. There are spots along that stretch where one can take a six-foot iron pick (MoW tool) and drive it four feet into the ground with your bare hand. I don't know how the DM&E ever expected to operate loaded coal trains over it. It's amazing the C&NW actually built there. Oddly, the old Milwaukee Road line to Rapid City, which is largely still intact but in absolutely horrendous
condition, isn't too far south of this line and is built on normal, sturdy ground.
One idea I heard is that CP really does
want to sell the entire DM&E, and they're trying to get serious offers to buy west of Tracy. When someone comes around with a serious offer, CP says they'll give them the whole thing for a little bit more. It's the ol' bait-and-switch. But if that idea goes bust, CP still keeps the Waseca Terminal portion of the DM&E, which is still profitable. Remember, they're just rumors.
Another rumor is BNSF buying west of Tracy. BNSF connects with the DM&E at two different locations: Wolsey and Florence, both of which are west of Tracy. This would fit into the BNSF system rather well. The one problem is that this would give BNSF, more or less, a monopoly in South Dakota. That miserable section from Pierre to Rapid City would be toast. Apparently BNSF officials have been out in South Dakota looking at this property very seriously. But all that funnels into the Waseca portion of the DM&E, so I can't imagine why CP would sell to BNSF when all that revenue would be transferred to BNSF at Wolsey and Florence.
I've also heard that former DM&E owner Kevin Schieffer is interested in buying the DM&E back, and has some scheme up his sleeve involving shortline Dakota Southern and that crappy ex-MILW track to Rapid City I mentioned earlier. Why a guy who made a BILLION dollars with the swoop of his pen would want to get back into this business rather than bask in the Caribbean sun for the rest of his life is beyond me. Like I said, they're all just rumors.
The only way Union Pacific would be part of this picture is if they could buy the entire thing. It would also fit well into their system: The UP is already in Winona and goes on to Chicago, and Waseca is practically next-door to Mankato, on former C&NW's Omaha Road from St. Paul to Sioux City and beyond. The Waseca yard would undoubtedly be closed and moved to Mankato where there's a very active yard. The DM&E funnels directly into that yard from both directions, and virtually nothing physical would have to change.
The one thing about which I feel certain is that the track from Pierre to Rapid City will not survive. It just won't. If Tracy West really is sold off to shortline operators, no one in their right mind would try to use it.