Removal of the railroad line entering Chadron from the east got underway two weeks ago, and what may have been the last load of grain to travel the tracks was shipped from Hay Springs last week, Rob Harvey, one of the principals in the Nebkota Shortline Railroad said Monday.
Harvey, also a principal in West Plains Grain, which owns and operates grain elevators in a number of communities along the line and elsewhere in the region, said that A and K Salvage of Salt Lake City, has begun removing rail and ties from the section of line leading to Chadron.
Nebkota filed a request with the Surface Transportation Board to abandon about 30 miles of track from Rushville to Chadron this spring. The track from Merriman to Rushville was abandoned in 2005, and the rails and ties were removed.
Harvey said earlier this year the rail line hadn’t been carrying enough traffic to justify keeping it open.
Nebkota was formed by a group of local shippers after the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad ended service on the ‘Cowboy Line’ between Norfolk and Chadron in 1993.
Most recently Nebkota has primarily hauled grain, as well as some gravel and timber. Traffic has been falling on the line, however, as some businesses began trucking their grain to larger, main-line loading facilities, and Harvey said earlier this year that the amount of traffic didn’t justify the investment.
Nebkota has only three employees, and three engines, but also operates a dinner train which has become a popular attraction for visitors and local residents. Harvey said keeping the line open for the dinner train, which traveled east from Chadron for about eight miles, wasn’t economically feasible.
The line will remain intact from a point about four miles east of town, he said. Nebkota still has track rights in Chadron from the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern railroad, and can continue to deliver freight to DME at Dakota Junction, west of Chadron.
The closure of the rail line into Chadron ends an important chapter in the history of the community, which was founded as a railroad town and housed a division headquarters for the C and NW until the mid-1980s.