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Iron Range Hot Spot: Iron Junction

[G2:1472 n=1 size=640]A crude taconite train running south from the Thunderbird Mine to the Fairlane processing plant splits the signals near the south leg of the wye at Iron Junction.

A highly recommended day trip from the Twin Ports includes a visit to the busiest location on the Iron Range, only an hour north of Duluth. This stretch of former DM&IR mainline between Wolf and Fairlane can see upwards of 50 train movements in a 24 hour period.

Directions: For the fast route take Highway 53 (four lane) north from Duluth and exit at Highway 37 (to Hibbing). Take this road west, first crossing over the former DW&P and then arriving at Iron and the junction with Highway 7 from the south (see map). For the preferred railfan route take Highway 2 west out of Proctor. At the junction with MN194 (flashing red light) go straight and then left at the stop sign. This will take you past the Saginaw Depot. Upon reaching the junction with Highway 33 (overpass), take that north until you reach Highway 7 (left in two miles). Follow Highway 7 all the way north to Iron (following the Missabe Subdivision).

Wolf: Wolf is located at the northern end of the "funnel" that channels traffic to the mines. At this important Junction the Minntac Subdivision heads north to the massive USX Minntac mine (visible on the Laurentian Divide). The Missabe Subdivision curves off to the right and heads to the Unitac Thunderbird Mine at Largo and also a connection with the former DW&P Rainy Subdivision at Shelton Junction (take Shelton Junction Road off of Highway 7). Crude ore trains (nicknamed T-Birds) for United Taconite load at Largo and taconite trains for the Minorca plant diverge at Shelton Junction to load north of Virginia on the Rainy Sub. BNSF's Kelly Lake Local also has trackage rights from Keenan to Minorca for occasional (2-3 times per week) deliveries of mining supplies.

Iron Junction: The heart of the funnel is where the Iron Range Subdivision curves off to the east for Two Harbors (Minntac and Minorca pellet trains use this route as well as coal trains to Minnesota Power's Laskin plant near Hoyt Lakes). Great photo opportunities here at both the north and south legs of the wye and on the line to Two Harbors. Just south of Iron Junction is the Highway 37 overpass, great for morning shots of southbounds and late afternoon for northbounds.

Keenan: Connection with the Keenan Subdivision to Emmert (Hibbing) as well as Keenan Yard. The yard is off-limits, but shots can be had from public roads on either end. Usually power for the T-Bird and Keenan Switch jobs can be found here. BNSF uses the Keenan Sub to deliver loaded coal trains to Keenan for movement to Laskin around once every 10 days. CN runs over the Keenan Sub twice a week to service an explosives plant and rock loading spur at Wilpen.

Fairlane: At the south end of the funnel is the track into United Taconite's large Fairlane pellet processing plant (just off the map to the south). There is a wye here and shots of trains arriving and departing the plant can be had off of Highway 7. The crude ore trains run on a 24/7 basis and usually consist of a pair of 98-car trains (96 cars and two always-loaded idler cars for positioning at the mine). Two ex-DM&IR engines and ore cars with tall side extensions are standard. These trains can load twice per 8-hour shift and run like streetcar frequency between Fairlane and Thunderbird North (Largo). Finished taconite trains to Unitac run roughly twice in a 24-hour period with 140 cars to Proctor.

CN General Freights: CN southbound manifest trains also run on the Missabe Subdivision. Northbounds use the former DW&P to the east. A CN local is based out of Virginia.
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