• CN former WCL whitepine branch upper Michigan

  • Discussion relating to the Canadian National, past and present. Also includes discussion of Illinois Central and Grand Trunk Western and other subsidiary roads (including Bessemer & Lake Erie and the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway). Official site: WWW.CN.CA
Discussion relating to the Canadian National, past and present. Also includes discussion of Illinois Central and Grand Trunk Western and other subsidiary roads (including Bessemer & Lake Erie and the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway). Official site: WWW.CN.CA

Moderators: Komachi, Ken V

  by Milwaukeeroad
I wonder what the future will hold after CN's largest shipper on the 77-mile branch closes it's doors in July 2010.Hudbay Minerals copper refinery in white pine Michigan. I wonder what will happen to the line if in fact the copper refinery closes? :( Wisconsin Central was big on customer service however it seems CN could care less about a few car loads on a branch line, once the closure happens? I'm I wrong? Last year in 2008 CN did a upgrade on the branch and replaced ties and the tracks looked in better condition then years past. :-D White pine mine being CNs biggest shipper...what other traffic is shipped on that branch? Pulpwood? A little left over ore? Is there any hope for new business so the line has a future? Will CN still operate the branch when the copper refinery closes? Maybe on a as needed type thing? Would CN pull the plug (abandoned the line)due to a lack of traffic(a few car loads)?A big railroad would seem to fined this unprofitable to operate. What would happen next? Would the state try and buy the line and maybe a short line would run it? This former DSS&A trackage may be history. See Trains magazine September 2009 fold out map Iron range railroads...so much trackage is gone from upper Michigan and Wisconsin!
What affect would that have on the Ashland sub north of lets say park falls? What traffic is shipped on this line? (Prentice -Ashland sub) pulpwood, the white pine traffic,anything else? How is business on this sub? Light-density? Again Would CN still run North to Ashland after the White Pine mine closes? Wisconsin Central went after pulp wood business...CN doesn't seem to service that traffic as well as WCL did.
North of Marengo jct. the only traffic is pulp wood right?
This branch is a small gem where you can still see WCL paint working the rails...for now anyway.
So what do you think?
Thanks, Scott
  by mtuandrew
Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other customers between White Pine and Marengo, unless there's some industry in North Ironwood. There is a siding near Saxon visible on the south side of the US 2 underpass, but I've never seen whether it's associated with a business. If White Pine is closed down for good - I doubt that, they've closed and reopened the refining plant a few times over the last decade - the rail line would still stay in place until they'd finished shipping out the equipment and scrap. After that, perhaps car storage until CN is sure White Pine won't ever return? The line doesn't connect to any shortlines, there's no heavy industry save for White Pine and not much light industry, and Ashland proper doesn't strike me as having much business either. I can't comment on the line all the way to Prentice, since I rarely drive that way. Shame the DSS&A isn't still extant from Bergland to Sidnaw though... if the Yellow Dog copper sulfide mine ever gets going, it'd be cake to send the ore by rail to White Pine for beneficiating.

The only times recently that I've caught the White Pine local along M-28, it's been behind a pair of IC Geeps. No WCL paint until you got to the flats and boxcars.
  by Milwaukeeroad
Thanks for the reply Mtuandrew.I have also seen that siding in Saxon...I'm not sure if it is a pulpwood loading area or what? No industry in North Ironwood that I know of? There is a short spur switch at North ironwood Milepost 299.2...very short. When I was there last year it had a big stack of old ties stacked up from the tie replacement that was going on,on that sub. I'm not sure what that short spur is used for? I do know that Thomaston has a siding milepost 287.6. I do know they load pulpwood and ore in gons there. The Mow department also has misc. track parts stored there as well. I read there used to be a round house there. You can't tell it's to over grown now. As for the White Pine mine I sure hope it will stay open...Or something works out before August 2010 for the sake of the community. The economic impact ripples out...business is hurting everywhere but in these small towns the impact is felt much harder. Hubay White Pines owner is closing it's copper smelter in Manitoba, Canada by next July 2010 leaving White Pine refinery without a copper source. Only time well tell. If the yellow dog mine gets going...the right of way is still there...CN could re-track it so White pine could be the receiver. I'm not sure what steps a railroad has to take to do such a thing? However CN seems pretty powerful. I know no short lines connect with that track age, I guess what I was trying to say was if CN pulls out due to a lack of revenue and no longer services that sub a short line could hopefully service it in the future and profit rather then just abandoning it. I think this line is important not only for future growth in Upper Michigan/Wisconsin but for the logging industry and for new business that's looking to set up shop in one of these communities where they can have the option of shipping via rail with today's gas prices.
  by mtuandrew
It sounds like you know more than I do, Milwaukeeroad. :-D I hadn't a clue that Thomaston had a roundhouse, or that there was a siding there. Perhaps I'll get up there with a camera this weekend.

Haven't heard anything new about Yellow Dog, but I doubt it'll go forward with the economic slowdown - copper just isn't priced high enough anymore, and there's a fairly organized movement against it opening. Same with restarting White Pine Mine, let alone any of the Keweenaw native-ore mines. As for the South Shore ROW, at least the half from Nestoria to Sidnaw still has rails, out of service and only used for car storage. West of there, I don't think it's even officially railbanked, just in use as the snowmobile trail, and even if CN owned the property outright you'd have some issues moving the trail and repairing the grade. If Yellow Dog went through it'd be a worthy expense, but almost certainly not otherwise.

Ah, now I see what you're saying about the line and a shortline operator. (see here for the Wisconsin rail map in PDF) Progressive Rail already operates the old C&NW from Rice Lake through Cameron to Chippewa Falls, and they've been very aggressive in finding customers around the Twin Cities. Perhaps they could put in a bid and take over the White Pine-Prentice line as well as the Soo main from Tomahawk to Prentice to Cameron. Either PGR or another company might convince shippers in northern Wisconsin and the western UP to leave trucks... doesn't seem like CN has tried very hard there recently, since they apparently think the ex-Soo is worth more as car storage than it would be as active rail. Hopefully that'll change.
  by Milwaukeeroad
Progressive rail I think would be great at taking it over. I see the line from Cameron to Prentice is out of service. I didn't know that? I wonder what the reason is for taking it out? Lack of traffic? Old rail, slow speeds, no customers? Like we are talking about, CN only seems to care about it's Iron interstate lines. With the economic slowdown you would think every car load counts to turn profit.
Progressive rail seems like a good little railroad. I like the fact that they still have the Minneapolis Northfield & Southern look. You pointed out just how they could link trackage together to operate those CN branches if they go up for sale. I think a company like that could make a success out of this former Soo line trackage. Only time will tell.
The DSS&A did have a yard facility at Thomaston,like I said it's hard to tell because the area no longer used is over grown. But, there is a siding and maintenance of way parts there. If you like railroads...it's worth a look. Last year I went to check it out the Thomaston siding and the train must have terminated there due to the track maintenance going on...CN engines, no WCL this time. There were a few gondolas on the siding for ore loading from the Peterson mine site. Ore fines are trucked over and loaded there. Ore left over from that mine above ground from 1960s. I don't know how much of that is going on right now? I'm not sure what the demand is for this product with the state of things. (Economic slowdown)
One thing is for sure, White Pine branch is the last remaining rail line on the west half of upper Michigan.
  by jimnorthwood
Thomaston briefly served as a division headquarters, many years ago. Facilities included a roundhouse, a depot, and a section house. That would account for the remaining artifacts you saw there. Once White Pine closes next year, CN will probably file for abandonment. Other than some pulpwood and occasional cars of scrap, there is nothing to justify keeping the line going. It seems unlikely a shortline operator would want it, being as its only customer is closing. More than likely it will join the ranks of other rights of way in the U.P., ie as a snowmobile trail.

Sidnaw-Bergland was pulled up in early 1990, I believe.

Another big U.P. abandonment is coming, too. The Escanaba and Lake Superior will soon file an abandonment for its line from Ontonogan to either Mass City or Sidnaw. The paper mill in Ontonogan has operated only sporadically this year, and regardless they have shifted all of their output to truck. There must be something (pulp loading, maybe) in Mass City that is causing E&LS to consider possibly keeping the track intact to that location, instead of abandoning all the way to Sidnaw. The village of Ontonogan plans to fight the abandonment, but I see a snowmobile trail future for it, too.
  by mtuandrew
Well, despite the likely abandonment of this line, I noticed the CN replacing ties on the White Pine branch yesterday (at the Gogebic-Ontonagon County line.) Didn't appear to be all that many ties, as it was just one work truck, but it's something anyway.

Also, I found it amusing that from Negaunee to L'Anse, CN is using a GP60M to power its scoot. Quite the horsepower for a train of 15 cars :-D
  by Milwaukeeroad
Thanks for the replys thus far. I was up in Michigan in the beginning of October. The white pine local was only 5 cars long one engine, last year I counted 16 cars two engines. One day returning from Marengo Jct. with 5 pulpwood cars all with WCL markings along with WCL GP40 3024. The engine was the main power on the white pine sub the whole week I was up there.Thursday the local returned from Marengo Jct. early (they tied up early everyday this week) just a lone engine WCL GP40 3024 no cars. Friday No movement of the engine. I noticed a heaver pound rail over the crossings. I noticed many improvement's along the right of way.
I talked with a Mow worker,he said they have a another tie replacement plan for next year and are looking to install heaver pound rail on that sub. I asked how business was? OK. I asked about the abandonment,He said the mine is looking for another buyer.He also told me of a area just west of Thomaston that is ready for mining. The company (he never said who) just has to brake ground and CN will build a spur to there. 10 miles up 3 miles in. CN will then send the product to white pine for processing.
Only time will tell?
If it's clear that this line will be abandoned why are improvement's to this sub on going?
  by Milwaukeeroad
Does anyone have any info. now that the Mine is closed or is closing shortly? Will CN even run a train on that branch any more? Anyone working for CN, or anyone who follows that branch who has any info. please pass it on. I would also like to know where that crew will now end up on a count that the mine is closed. Thanks!
  by mtuandrew
Milwaukeeroad wrote:Does anyone have any info. now that the Mine is closed or is closing shortly? Will CN even run a train on that branch any more? Anyone working for CN, or anyone who follows that branch who has any info. please pass it on. I would also like to know where that crew will now end up on a count that the mine is closed. Thanks!
As background: http://www.mininggazette.com/page/conte ... 10393.html
Daily Mining Gazette, June 8, 2010 wrote:WHITE PINE - The White Pine Copper Refinery is set to close sometime this summer, and employees are gearing for final smelting operations.

"The employees are going to get final word of when their last day will be," said Phil Kolehmainen, who once worked at the refinery.

Kolehmainen said the final smelting operations at the parent company in Flin Flon, Manitoba, Canada is set for June 11.

"There's not going to be enough material left to go much further than Aug. 1," he said.

Kolehmainen said there are plans to keep employees working as long as possible, up to Aug. 1, but for certain, the White Pine Copper Refinery will close this summer.
Perhaps White Pine has already had all nine of its lives. Bad news for the community of White Pine, Ontonagon County and the western UP, not to mention the CN branch.
  by blackjack1518
It looks as if the Orvana Copperwood mine project would bring back life to the White Pine sub. As for the White Pine refinery that is still unknown what will happen with that place, it doesn't appear Copperwood has any interest in the site. Smelting in Canada would most likely be used. As for the smelter in White Pine, the ASARCO shaft furnace is in place and anode casting wheel and Hazelett continuous caster are still on site. Wouldn't take very much of an investment to bring that smelter back up, location already has a state of the art refinery in place. The Orvana Copperwood mine will most likely hire a broker for the concentrate, the broker would just give them a drop off point.

It appears CN will be used for shipping of the concentrate by rail, but they will be able to ship by truck also. It is also possible that CN may build a spur to the Copperwood mine site located in the Wakefield, MI area.

Orvana Minerals will be filing the permits to mine spring of this year with a target start mining date of 2013. Mine life is expected to be well over 10 years now since they have discovered the area to have much more copper then earlier studies revealed.
  by Milwaukeeroad
Thanks for posting some new info Blackjack1518. Hopefully things well turn out for the better, but it seems only time will tell. I hope CN has the patience to wait and see how things pan out before they rip out the track-age.
  by mtuandrew
Likewise, thanks for posting that, Blackjack!

I hope CN doesn't have much drive to tear out their branch to White Pine. I'm not sure what the tax rate is on that track (or if it's taxed at all - wouldn't surprise me if the taxes were waived or deferred) but if it's low, CN can always use somewhere to store cars for a while. For that matter, they could abandon it intact like the E&LS portion of the old DSS&A.
  by blackjack1518
Hard to say what CN will do, I think they will hang on to it for a while yet until something happens with the refinery if sold or moved. That branch would be the last rail left going that far west if EL&S ends up taking up the rail from Sidnaw to Ontonagon. White Pine still has the power plant running at the refinery location, they used to get coal in from ship at Ontonagon harbor when Smurfit Stone mill was still running. That may be to expensive now to bring coal in that way since mill doesn't order any more. So maybe once and a while they would bring coal or wood chips for the power plant. They also would load some pulpwood out of White Pine and Bergland not much in the winter months though. Or in a few years they may just be running up to the Wakefield area to the Copperwood mine site and the rest would just be in place but not used much or not at all.
  by blackjack1518
With the White Pine refinery on a day to day basis it appears the closing is coming any day now. It will be interesting to see what CN will do with the sub once the current owner closes up the refinery for good.