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'Historic' day for DM#x0026;E?

Speculation builds prior to Saturday's announcement

From staff reports

The Dakota, Minnesota &; Eastern Railroad has a "significant" announcement planned for Saturday.

How big a deal will it be, and how will it affect the Rochester and Austin areas?

Has the DM&E; arranged for financing for its planned extension to the Powder River Basin coal fields in Wyoming? Is a sale or merger in the works? Or will the announcement amount to not much at all?

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A thousand theories have taken flight after a memo to employees by company President Kevin Schieffer became public this week. In the undated memo, Schieffer described this weekend's announcement -- at three different times in three South Dakota cities -- only in general terms, as "concerning our plans for major rail improvements."

Schieffer said the news could be considered "historic" for the 19-year-old company, which is based in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Schieffer did not return a phone call Thursday. In his memo, he encouraged employees to attend the public announcements. "It would help a great deal to have a strong turnout by our employees to demonstrate interest," he wrote. "Feel free to bring friends and family. Numbers matter."

DM&E,; whose line passes through Rochester on a 600-mile course from Winona to the Black Hills of South Dakota, has been seeking federal approval to run rails 260 miles farther west into the Wyoming coal country. The railroad's legal odyssey began in 1998, and its application, following court appeals, is on its second pass through the federal Surface Transportation Board's review process.

Cedar American Rail Holdings, the parent company of the DM&E,; also owns the Iowa, Chicago &; Eastern Railroad, which runs through Austin.

The city of Rochester and Mayo Clinic have been battling the DM&E's; $2 billion upgrade plan virtually since it was announced in 1998, and Olmsted County joined the fray officially in 2002.

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