Latest Amtrak study maps include potential routes through Sioux Falls, Rapid City

February 20, 2024

John Hult (S.D. Searchlight)

A long distance rail study from the Federal Railroad Administration includes new maps showing two possible South Dakota passenger rail routes.

The routes would run through Sioux Falls and Rapid City on a line connecting the Twin Cities to Denver, and through Sioux Falls on a line connecting the Twin Cities and Kansas City.

The rail administration has conducted multiple rounds of stakeholder outreach through regional meetings since 2022, the year following the passage of President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. That law included billions for expansion and upgrades to existing passenger rail service through Amtrak, as well as money for the administration to engage in the outreach project, which is called the Long-Distance Service Study.

The maps themselves represent potential routes, not planned ones. The maps are labeled as a “Proposed Network of Preferred Routes,” and the administration is taking public comments on them through March 8 at [email protected].

An organization based in Madison called All Aboard Northwest has pushed for the inclusion of South Dakota routes during the administration’s regional meetings. South Dakota is the only state in the contiguous U.S. to have never had passenger rail service in the five-decade history of Amtrak.

In an email to supporters sent over the weekend, All Aboard Northwest President Dan Bilka said moving from a listing on a map to actual rail routes would require years of coordination and support from stakeholders in South Dakota.

Even so, he wrote, the maps are a sign that the rail administration has taken the advocacy of groups like All Aboard Northwest and its backers seriously. He quoted a passage of a blog post from Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews to make his point:

“The FRA team didn’t just order out for pizza last month and sit in someone’s basement to draw up a map with Magic Markers. Everyone involved knows that the next step is a broad, high-level assessment of capital needs, ridership, social and economic benefits, and stages of readiness.”

The maps that include South Dakota are included in the summary materials produced after a third round of stakeholder meetings last year. Another round of meetings will commence this spring. After that round, the administration will submit a final report to Congress.

Bilka encouraged passenger rail backers to put pressure on South Dakota’s congressional delegation to “help ensure that we’re a national priority moving forward.”