• North Shore Trip (Northshore Mining, that is...)

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by NellieBly
No, not CNS&M. I was 10 at the time the North Shore quit, and had never been to Chicago (I grew up in New York).

The North Shore here is the north shore of Lake Superior. On July 6 and 7, 2006 I was the guest of Northshore Mining in Silver Bay, MN. Northshore (formerly Reserve Mining) operates an iron mine in Babbitt, MN and a taconite plant in Silver Bay. A 47-mile railroad connects the two, carrying raw iron ore the the concentrator and pellet mill. As built in 1956, the railroad was entirely double track CTC, all reverse-signaled, and carried 12 trains a day (power was SD18s and SD28s, some of them still on the property). Today, production is less, and currently four round trips per day operate, with 130 cars and three SD40-2 or -3 (rebuilds) each, about 17,000 tons loaded.

Maximum grade on the line is 1.5%, but that's on the descent of the escarpment to Lake Superior. Only empties have to climb the hill. Otherwise, max grade against loaded trains is 0.5%. Speed limit is 30 for loaded trains, 35 for MTYs, from the ore yard to MP 13, and 35/40 beyond.

The railroad is still double track CTC to MP25, but beyond there to MP 47 is all single. This isn't really a problem since trains typically do not have to meet anywhere. The four trains are spread out over 24 hours, such that each crew can make two 6-hour round trips per shift (about 13 hours on duty -- Hours of Service does not apply since it's a private railroad).

The operation is efficient. At Silver Bay, the crew brings a loaded train in on one of four arrival tracks. They cut away the power, and one crewman runs around the train while the other walks the train, bleeding air and pulling a cut lever every 26 cars. When he's done with this, he re-boards and they tie onto a train of empties on one of the two MTY tracks. Then they go back up the hill. Meanwhile a remote control SW-1200 pulls 26 cars at a time onto a tail track and shoves them through the dumper onto one of the MTY tracks. The next arriving loaded ore train will find a train of empties waiting for it.

There is also a loadout for tailings with two tracks of its own. 32-car trains of DIFCO side-dump cars are loading with tailings (look and feel of wet gravel) and run seven miles up the hill to the tailings pond with two SD40s, one on either end, linked by DPU equipment. Once a day, a train of the DIFCO cars goes all the way to Babbitt, where the tailings are used as pavement for roads in the mine (large trucks are used to move ore to the crusher and rail loadout from the mine).

A ride to Babbitt is interesting. The climb to MP 13 is scenic, with some long views of the lake and shoreline. Once on the plateau, it's mostly just trees.

At MP 7 is the wye to the tailings pond, all interlocked. At MP 24 is Norshore Junction, with a small yard and a connection to DM&IR (now owned by CN). Cars of ore concentrate (a few per week) are interchanged here, as well as covered hoppers of bentonite clay, which is used in the taconite pelletizing process.

At about MP 35 the former Erie Mining rail line parallels, then crosses overhead at about MP 39. It's out of service right now. At MP 42, a former Erie spur to a mine crosses overhead.

At MP 46, we enter the Babbitt yard limits. There is a four-track yard, with two tracks serving the ore loadout. There is also a locomotive shop, where the locos get their daily inspection during the layover. The crew spots their train for loading and pulls the locos into the house for inspection. There is a dead line outside of SD18 and SD28 locos.

We check out the ore crusher and talk with the mine manager. Then it's time to head back. The crew has already tied onto the MTYs, so we get a ride up to the head end with a car knocker.

The trip back with 17,000 trailing tons is the real show, but there are few train handling problems. Until we hit the downgrade on the Superior escarpment, the engineer controls the train entirely with dynamic brakes. He does need about a 12-lb. set to control the train down the 1.5%.

And that's the Northshore Railroad.

On the Saturday I rode another North Shore, this time the North Shore Scenic RR. This is an affiliate of the Minnesota Railroad Museum, which is located in the Duluth Union Depot. They have a nice collection of rail equipment displayed in the former station tracks.

NSS runs several different trips. Daily they run about 7 miles to Lakeview, in East Duluth. They also run "pizza trains" and dinner trains. On Fridays and Saturdays, they make a 26 mile round trip to Two Harbors. Their Lakefront Line is former DM&IR, now owned by a local rail authority. DM&IR has ore docks in Duluth and Two Harbors, and really didn't need the line except to move light locos to and from the shop at Proctor (north of Duluth) so 20 years ago they sold it.

Recently I-35 was completed through Duluth, severing the connection from Union Depot to the Lakefront Line. Now, a half mile reverse move (west) is required to a point where there is a connection to the Lakefront Line, and MP 0 is right opposite the depot, so I make it a 27 mile trip.

The line is within view of the lake for much of the distance to Two Harbors. Leaving Duluth, it is right on the water, and apparently has in the past been washed out by winter storms. Further east, it climbs above the lake and is out of sight of water at times. There is no freight activity at all.

The DM&IR line into Two Harbors makes a loop. Trains run south into the yard serving the ore dock, then head around the loop and back north again. The Lakefront Line crosses under the west side of the loop and then climbs up to Two Harbors Junction, where the NSS crew (all volunteers) must ask the CN dispatcher to clear a signal for them.

Once they've crossed through the interlocking and gotten behind the eastward home signal, the crew hand-throws their way onto the lead to the depot. The former DM&IR station is an impressive brick building, now a local history musuem. It sits at the top of a lawn sweeping down to Agate Bay, with a commanding view of the bay and the DM&IR ore dock. As we arrived, an ore boat was departing.

We had two hours in Two Harbors, but with a local crafts festival going on, there was lots to do.

The trip back was just as pleasant and uneventful as the trip up. On both trips, we met the short-turn train at the Lakeview siding. Equipment used is all from the museum's collection, and apparently is rotated frequently. The short-turn train had three cars (baggage, 2 coaches) painted in GN orange and green, and a SOO GP30. Our equipment was a former B&M RDC, which was nice since DM&IR did own one RDC that they used between Duluth and Two Harbors.

On the return trip we also met the "pizza train", with two DM&IR heavyweight coaches, an NW5 in GN orange, and a former C&NW bilevel commuter car.

If you're in Duluth, this is the trip to take.