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The South Dakota State Fair

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A couple years ago, On a Saturday afternoon, while scanning the news we came across an article from the South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture asking for the public’s help in boosting attendance at the South Dakota State fair. Challenge accepted.

Why the State Fair
First, I wanted to look at the State Fair itself; what is it all about? Why is it a big deal? What’s good about it and not so great.

It is all about kids and agriculture or 4-H. Other things happen at the fair too, but strip away all the ‘extras’ it is all about kids showing off their projects against everyone else’s In the state. These kids worked really hard on their projects and they deserve recognition. I would like more kids to get involved in 4-H, but that is another discussion all together.

Some of the other things that go on:
  • Midway
  • Fair food
  • Grandstand shows/concerts
  • Commercial exhibits
  • Political debates (politics is almost a blood sport in South Dakota)
  • So much more There is a little of something for everyone.

A trip to the State is almost always a full day event.
What’s great:
There is almost always something happening!
There is almost something for everyone.
Fair food!
Something new every year
The price of admission is less than $10.00

What’s Not so great:
Location. Huron is in the center of eastern South Dakota and is about a one to two hour drive from any of the major cities. Getting there isn’t a problem however leaving, after a day of walking around and a couple of funnel cakes, that hour drive can get long. During fair time there is a lot of vehicle and pedestrian traffic around the fairgrounds as people are coming and going.

Parking. If you try to park close to the fairgrounds, expect to pay 5.00 or more per day or more, if you can find a parking place at all. You can park at the mall and take the shuttle. If you are spending more time there, you can consider a camper and camping out on the fairgrounds, reserve your spot early.

There is nothing wrong with the fair itself, The problem is getting to the fair and the parking.

Two other things that are worth considering, The State Fair happens over Labor day weekend and fair grounds have other events that happen when the fair is not going on.

A Possible Solution:
Passenger train service from Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, Brookings and Pierre to the State Fairground in Huron. The price for a round trip ticket could include admission to the fair. Of Course the price of a ticket would be set by market conditions.

Given the complexity of such a venture and all the agencies involved, some kind of passenger railroad board or authority would need to be formed similar to Amtrak (I know, I’m talking about expanding government) to help coordinate all the different moving parts.

There is more than a few hurdles to get over to make this a reality
  • Train stations and platforms need to be built
  • Current rails upgraded and new rails installed
  • Equipment needs to purchased
  • Employees hired
  • Contracts for various services need to be secured.

The Pro’s
  • The parking issues will be almost eliminated completely
  • The Fair experience can start on the train.
  • Reduced traffic around the fairgrounds
  • No long drive to Huron or back. The ride back might take a bit longer, but you can relax the entire way.
  • Trains can be used for other events at the fairgrounds, or other places.

The Con’s
  • It will take awhile to set up and get working, a couple of years at least
  • Ongoing maintenance
  • Buy-in from multiple agencies and municipalities


The Money
In South Dakota, any passenger rail service would be expected to be 100% self supporting. Just about anyone involved with any railroad at any level knows the passenger rail service bleeds money. There are few exceptions like Amtak’s Northeast corridor Any passenger rail service will require ongoing subsidies to continue operating. It is doubtful it will make enough to offset any capital costs.

The rails between Sioux Falls and Huron are not in the best shape, most likely the majority would need to be replaced at a cost of 1 to 2 million per rail mile. We are looking at 250 million just from Sioux Falls to Huron. Once the new rail line is laid, it can be used for more than passenger service, Communities would be able to use the line to transport more goods.
There is also the cost of building train stations and equipment. Beyond that there will be ongoing operating costs.

There would be some income from ticket sales and on board concessions, however It would take almost five car loads of people to offset just operating costs of one trip. Passenger service by itself will not survive in South Dakota, it needs something else to go with it, like The State Fair.

Even if the train runs just for special events, it will be hard pressed to run in the black.

The question that has to be asked, is the State Fairgrounds, and specifically The South Dakota State fair worth such an investment?
 

MARC Rider

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Huron, huh? In 1978 or 1979 I got a letter from the USGS asking if I'd be interested in a job as a junior hydrologist in the Water Resources Division office in Huron. I was about ready to finish graduate school at the time, and was more interested in getting a GS-9 hydrologist job that the GS-5/7 they were posting. Also, I looked where Huron was located. Now, I try not to be a snob about living in small towns, but Huron is really isolated for a city boy like me. Apparently it also was for the USGS, because they moved their South Dakota office to Rapid City sometime between 1979 and 1999, when I started working on a project with somebody from the Rapid City USGS office. (I had gotten my GS-9 hydrologist job in Towson, Maryland, outside of Baltimore.)
 

jebr

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It wouldn't be worth it. You'd be much better off putting out feeder buses from lots of cities in South Dakota versus upgrading a train route that'll only capture a few of those cities. Buses also would take advantage of existing infrastructure which will be paid for regardless.

As a comparison, the Minnesota State Fair has much larger parking issues (you'd be downright shocked to find a $5 parking spot within walking distance of the fairgrounds that was safe! Parking is $15+ at the fairgrounds, and often $30-$40 in yards near the fairgrounds,) it has higher attendance, there's already a large existing park-and-ride network to build from, there's existing commuter rail service to the Twin Cities, and tracks near the fairgrounds already exist and are serviceable for passenger rail as-is. Even with all of those factors, there's basically been no serious discussion of passenger rail service to the Fairgrounds in recent memory - the existing bus services work well enough, and the cost to even build a spur track for the train to layover at and build a platform at isn't worth the cost.
 

Bob Dylan

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The Texas State Fair in Dallas ( Cancelled this year due to COVID)draws Millions of people each year spread out over a few weeks time.

Amtrak runs the "Big Game Train" the week of the Texas-Oklahoma Football Game @ the Cotton Bowl on the Fairgrounds, plus the Heartland Flyer runs Daily( in Normsl Times) between Oklahoma City and Ft Worth where one can catch Light Rail ( TRE) to Dallas, then transfer to DART @ Union Station to get to the Fairgrounds.

The Texas Eagle also takes folks to the Dallas Union Station Daily ( again in Normsl times) where you can hop on the Green Line for the Fairgrounds.

Even with all this Rail, the Majority of Fair attendees arrive by Auto or Walk, there is Parking all over East/ South Dallas that runs from a Couple of Dollars to Valet Parking for Big $$ depending on where you park.

I agree that it's not financially feasible to build the South Dakota Route.
 

MARC Rider

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The Maryland State Fair is in Timonium, a Baltimore suburb just north of the city. If you could park for $5 that would be a good deal. Fortunately, there's a light rail stop at the fairgrounds, so city folk can come to the fair and see what all this "farming" stuff is about. I'm surprised South Dakota locates their fair in what seems to be an out-of-the-way corner of their (large) state.

It's possible that a charter train to serve the fair might break even, but I can't see that it would have much effect on reducing traffic at the fair site.
 

fairviewroad

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This is what I recall of Amtrak stopping at a state fair... New York State Fair station - Wikipedia
Amtrak also stops at the North Carolina State Fair, which is along the Piedmont/Carolinian route.

I've often thought Amtrak should create a stop for the Oregon State Fair, which runs for 10 days in late summer. The fairgrounds border the tracks that carry the Cascades/Coast Starlight trains. Of course, it would require some state investment to get that going, but it doesn't seem insurmountable.

However, the chief difference between the New York example, the North Carolina example and my Oregon proposal is that unlike the South Dakota fair, there is an existing Amtrak route that provides convenience access to the fairgrounds.

If I was a rail advocate in South Dakota, I'd push for inclusion in the Amtrak national system, or perhaps a daily train to MSP, or whatever. Definitely not a niche service like this. As another poster said, you could run motorcoach service to/from some of the surrounding cities for pennies on the dollar compared to a train service.
 

Devil's Advocate

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If South Dakota wants new passenger rail they can start with building trust and earning political capital by supporting passenger rail initiatives in other states first. Or they can just do nothing and expect nothing in return.
 

jis

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If South Dakota wants new passenger rail they can start with building trust and earning political capital by supporting passenger rail initiatives in other states first. Or they can just do nothing and expect nothing in return.
Oddly enough Senator Thune from South Dakota has been surprisingly supportive of the Gulf Coast service. Exactly why, I can;t tell. Maybe he is just friends with Senator Wicker.
 

WWW

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4 states completely void of Amtrak passenger rail service - South Dakota - Wyoming - Alaska* & Hawaii **
* AK - has own Alaska Railroad
** HI - light rail - tourist sugar cane/pineapple excursions

I would venture to note that maybe a freak rerouting of the Zephyr thru Wyoming is possible
weather derailment track repairs etc. - but no passenger facilities or stops except for charter
bus connections pre arranged.

Oh there was once passenger rail service from MSP to the west coast via SD in a bygone era.

The EB goes north thru North Dakota - miles from SD

South Dakota rail - build it and they will come - not likely - even if upgrading some workable existing track.
Having a State Fair at the capitol city Pierre (center point of SD) - not enough structure for the purpose.
Best location would be the large population center i.e. Sioux Falls or Rapid City

Nothing but wishful thinking - significant interest to make a measly profit doubtful - awe forget it !
Nothing on the grand scale as the Minnesota State Fair with near 2 million in attendance over 12 days #
# suspended in 2020 due to the Covid 19 virus and personal spacing requirements !
Metro Transit brings out all of its buses for charter trips from the many Malls and other locations to bring
thousands to the fair grounds DAILY yet keeping scheduled services going without interruption.

Sorry I sort of view a South Dakota fair as being on a county level attraction and what is SD going to do
with the upgraded tracks the rest of the year - the train consists can be chartered not a loss there.

Possible consideration of a SD sector of the EB on the rebuilt upgraded tracks ? ? ?
4 days a week thru ND and 3 days thru SD when full service would resume after budget political management issues !

I am sure that the AU membership may have more input and trivia to add - - - - - this could get exciting !
 

railiner

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Possible consideration of a SD sector of the EB on the rebuilt upgraded tracks ? ? ?
4 days a week thru ND and 3 days thru SD when full service would resume after budget political management issues !
Assuming you are referring to the route of the former MILW Olympian Hiawatha....well...yes, it does serve a piece of South Dakota, but not thru any meaningful cities....
Just to run it that way to tick off another state on the list, would be a wasted effort, IMHO.
 
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jis

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Unfortunately, some people believe from time to time that it is possible to run a trans-con through Rapid City. They need to crack open a railroad map of South Dakota and study it a bit.
 

Barb Stout

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I had read about the lack of (decent or any?) rails through the Black Hills which put a rest to my pipe dream of adding a route through Sioux Falls, Mitchell, the Badlands area, and the Black Hills. As for Huron, that's the area my dad grew up in: the tiny towns of Cavour and Iroquois just east of Huron, so I had spent some time there in my youth having grandparents, an uncle, aunts, and a cousin who lived in and near Iroquois. There were indeed railroad tracks going through Iroquois with a train coming through maybe once a day. I assume it was freight as the stop was at the grain elevator.
 

railiner

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I had read about the lack of (decent or any?) rails through the Black Hills which put a rest to my pipe dream of adding a route through Sioux Falls, Mitchell, the Badlands area, and the Black Hills. As for Huron, that's the area my dad grew up in: the tiny towns of Cavour and Iroquois just east of Huron, so I had spent some time there in my youth having grandparents, an uncle, aunts, and a cousin who lived in and near Iroquois. There were indeed railroad tracks going through Iroquois with a train coming through maybe once a day. I assume it was freight as the stop was at the grain elevator.
At least part of your “dream” came true...they routed Interstate 90 that way. You can even ride a bus over it, although that would require a few changes...
 

fairviewroad

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By the way, to the OP (if you're still around), don't let all the naysayers (myself included) on this thread get you down. As a "just for fun" idea, your proposal is just fine. It *would* be fun to take the train to the state fair, and it is certainly fun to imagine routes, etc.

So while your SD proposal isn't likely to ever come to fruition, don't let that stop you from thinking outside the box. And eventually, you'll start to discern better what makes a realistic proposal versus a pure rail fantasy. And then start pouring your efforts into the former, and eventually you might be part of something truly special.
 

FrensicPic

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My wife and I take the Pacific Surfliner to events at the Ventura County (Calif) Fairgrounds. It is a little more than hour ride (similar to driving) for us from Chatsworth to the Ventura station which is literally across the street from the main entrance - a shorter walk than from most areas of the parking lot. Yes, it costs more and takes a bit longer but, has been an enjoyable experience for us.

We started doing this some years ago when Southern California's Metrolink was running Ventura County Fair specials from Chatsworth with several intermediate stops on the two weekends the fair ran.. Three trains headed to the fair and three returning from the fair. The fare was very reasonable (less than the cost of an Amtrak ticket.

While the ridership appeared to be very good, the service was discontinued after three or four years. Probably a Metrolink decision. The "Coast Line" used is owned/dispatched by Metrolink and Union Pacific. We continued to patronize the fair but now, via Amtrak.

This photo is of the recently arrived first morning train. August 2010...
https://flic.kr/p/8ugp1Q
 

FrensicPic

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Similar to taking the train to a fair, here are a couple of articles of events in California that tried using special trains.
Not an easy task to pull something off like this.

Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals
Hoping to take a train to Coachella? Too bad, it's not happening this year

Sonoma Raceway/NASCAR
Sonoma Raceway puts brakes on fan train from Central Valley
 

Qapla

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If a train could run on the existing rail - at whatever speed is possible ... maybe trying to "hire" something like a "steam train" would be possible if you could find a company interested in getting one there for your "special events"

Hey - it is an idea ... I didn't say it is a "good" idea 🤷‍♂️
 

Anthony V

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Using tracks that still exist, South Dakota's best hope for scheduled passenger rail service would be a corridor branching off the California Zephyr route at Omaha, NE to Sioux Falls, SD via Sioux City, IA. This corridor would be set up similar to the Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma and Texas. This is the only corridor that MAY have enough population for a scheduled service serving SD to work, and even then, it has nowhere near the population of even some cities elsewhere in the Midwest, including Des Moines. In addition, much of the route would run through Iowa, which has shown no interest in even funding trains to Des Moines, let alone a smaller town like Sioux City.
 

Eric S

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Agree that Omaha - Sioux Falls is not completely far-fetched. Also, MnDOT has had Twin Cities - Sioux Falls service on their radar (as Phase 3 or 7 or 28 or something like that) after additional Twin Cities - Chicago trains, Twin Cities - Duluth service, and some other proposals.
 

Siegmund

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I had always wanted UP to run a train Idaho Falls - Blackfoot - Pocatello during the Eastern Idaho State Fair. One consist, 2 or 3 round trips a day, dropping people off 50 yards from the fair entrance on existing rails. I don't think anybody ever seriously considered it, but it was unfortunate they didn't.

One minor snag, if trains-to-fairs catch on across the country., is that these are all concentrated in the same time of year, around Labor Day, so there is a limited pool of equipment available to rent for a week.

Re $5 parking on the "not so good" list: don't laugh. Yes, it's a small expense in the greater scheme of things. In Idaho and Montana - and likely also South Dakota - the practical impact of having limited onsite parking, and charging for it, is that thousands of cars line the shoulders of major roads adjacent to the fair site, perhaps half a mile in each direction. The snarled traffic is caused not so much by the number of cars present as by the haphazard and sometimes unsafe way they park.
 
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