Northshore Mining handles raw taconite from its mine at Babbitt to its pellet plant located at Silver Bay on the shores of the big lake. Originally constructed by Reserve Mining in 1955, the Silver Bay pellet plant was the first large-scale pellet operation in Minnesota. The mine is 47 miles by rail from the massive pellet plant at Silver Bay. With its current production levels lower than when compared to past Reserve Mining figures, Northshore Mining finds itself with more mainline than it needs, with only four trains each way per day using the CTC controlled line (once entirely double track, the line has been cut back to single track from Babbitt to milepost 25). NSM receives mining supplies twice a week from CN at Norshor Junction, located between Silver Bay and Babbitt (access off Highway 11).
To move its tonnage, Northshore relies exclusively on EMD locomotives (see roster page below). A handful of locomotives still retain Reserve Mining's cream and brown paint scheme though most wear Northshore's blue and white colors. Northshore's operating pattern (in 2005) had loaded trains departing Babbitt at 5:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 5:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. (it usually takes just over two hours to make a run from Babbitt to SB). These trains typically operate with three 3,000-hp units and 126 cars. The cars are unloaded in Silver Bay by rotary-dump method using a switcher for positioning.
In addition to pellets, Northshore handles tailings (waste from the pellet process) to a dump site known as Milepost 7 located just off the mainline northwest of Silver Bay. These trains are typically made up of side-dump cars and are easy to spot with one DPU-equipped SD40-3 on each end (SD40-3s 651, 653, and 654 are equipped with DPU) and can run three to four times per shift (some tailings trains run all the way to Babbitt for road fill at the mine) .
Your best opportunity to photograph Northshore Mining railroad operations is near Silver Bay. Silver Bay is located on Highway 61 between Two Harbors and Taconite Harbor. Just before arriving at Silver Bay, take county highway 4. This will lead you to the mainline just northwest of town. Just before you pass under the mainline, turn left on county highway 3 for good photo possibilities between mileposts 4-6. There are a number of nice curves located in this area. Another prime location is the Highway 11 overpass near milepost 23 (take county highway 2 north from Two Harbors).