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Burlington Northern Santa Fe

[G2:1497 n=0 frame=none size=640]Since the Burlington Northern merger in 1970, BN traditionally has held the position of being the busiest railroad in the Twin Ports. Both Great Northern and Northern Pacific had a large presence in the area, with NP dominating Duluth freight traffic and GN moving tremendous amounts on iron ore through Allouez.

BN Merger Impact

As expected, BN rationalized a number of its predecessor lines after the merger. The biggest losers were the two ex-Northern Pacific lines from Duluth and Superior to Carlton. BN elected to run its traffic from the Twin Ports using ex-GN lines to the Twin Cities and Carlton. In the mid-1970s the two NP lines were abandoned, thus leaving the former GN line through Saunders as BN's only mainline route in and out of the Twin Ports. BN selected the former GN roundhouse and car shops in Superior as their primary service facility for the Twin Ports. The large NP Rices Point roundhouse in Duluth was then torn down, although the yard remains active.

A large amount of ex-NP trackage still does exist within the Twin Ports terminal. BNSF lines in Duluth are all ex-NP while trackage in Superior can trace its roots to both parents. The NP branch line to Ashland, Wisconsin was abandoned in 1985. That line is now a popular state trail as is the abandoned Duluth-Carlton mainline. In 1988 BN purchased a former Soo Line route south of Boylston and uses a portion of that line for its Hinckley Subdivision route to the Twin Cities (bridges spanning the Nemadji and Black Rivers are recommended photo spots).

Present Operations

Heavy tonnage. That best describes BNSF's operations in the Twin Ports. From Powder River Basin coal, Minnesota taconite, and Dakota grain, BNSF operates their heaviest trains into the Twin Ports.


BNSF operates over 1,200 loaded unit coal trains into Superior yearly for delivery to the large Midwest Energy Resource Corporation (MERC) coal dock. MERC, a subsidiary of Detroit Edison, loads Powder River Basin coal into lake vessels for shipment to power plants in Michigan and other locations. Motive power for these trains can range from SD75Is, SD60Ms, and SD70MACs. Trains average 123 cars in length and most arrive via the Brainerd Subdivision (Carlton) while some come north off the Hinckley Subdivision (Minneapolis).

Taconite (low grade iron ore)

BNSF serves two operating taconite plants on the Mesabi Iron Range, Keewatin Taconite and Hibbing Taconite. Combined they ship nearly 13 million tons of pellets a year and one can usually expect three loaded taconite trains per 24-hour period. Most "tac" trains go directly to Allouez with 183 cars where the pellets are stored prior to shipment by lake vessel to lower lake ports. Some trains, however, are sent via an all-rail routing to steel mills in the Midwest - some of which are interchanged with CN (DM&IR) at Steelton Yard. Most of the ore trains can be easily spotted as they use short mineral red hopper cars, although some all-rail moves use steel coal-type hoppers. The normal power for the Allouez ore trains consist of DPU-equipped GE C-44-9 type locomotives (2 on the front and one on the rear).

Although grain shipments through the massive elevators located in Duluth and Superior have decreased in recent years, grain still plays an important role in BNSF's local operations. When grain is moving strong (fall), one can expect to see at least one or two extra unit grain trains per day. During off-peak times grain is usually handled on the Minot-Superior freight. BNSF also operates loaded grain trains from the Twin Ports. These trains run to various milling elevators located in the United States.


BNSF has one major engine facility. Located just west of the 17th Street Yard, this ex-GN facility once boasted a large roundhouse, track/car repair shop, and supply depot. The building BNSF now uses for light repairs to locomotives and freight cars had been exclusively used as a car shop. Motive power found here can include just about anything on the BNSF roster (see photo above). The primary arrival and departure yard for BNSF is at 28th Street in Superior. To gain access to Duluth, trains roll across the former NP Grassy Point swing bridge (called Grassy Point Draw). The primary yard in Duluth is located on Rices Point, a finger of land extending out into St. Louis Bay. Power at Rices Point typically consists of two sets of SW-type switchers. The CN (DM&IR), UP, and CP interchange with BNSF at this yard. A number of switching jobs in the Twin Ports are now remote controlled and signs are posted around yards communicating this fact. Remote controlled SW1000s, SW1500s, GP38-2s and SD40-2s can be found here.