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OreRail Top 10 2016

dmir227's picture

Here is our annual recap of the top 10 ore-related stories of 2016. I didn’t include Keetac’s announced reopening as that will fall in 2017. We also might see more concrete news about Essar in 2017 so that saga isn’t mentioned here. 

10. BNSF’s ore pool labor agreement changed in March after the last employee working under the “triple pay” agreement retired. This agreement had allowed for ore crews working through Kelly Lake with pellet trains to/from Superior to be eligible for this lucrative pay 

9. BNSF started using buffer cars on its pellet trains. Located in front of the DP locomotives, these older loaded cars with yellow top sills alert the loading operators that the end of the train is near and to stop loading, thus helping prevent taconite from spilling onto locomotives.

8. NSM receives GEs. NSM receive two CEFX AC4400CW units from sister railroad LS&I in June. They operated on mainline ore trains until early October when they suffered flat spots. NSM’s two leased SD9043MACs had their lease extended to fill in for the GEs. This is noteworthy in that the GEs were NSM’s first regular use of that builder’s locomotives (they had tested GEs in the past). 

<--break->7. CN signal and track changes. CN continued to upgrade older searchlight signals on the former DM&IR and also reconfigured the CTC control point at Adolph. Another track change was the removal of many of the short tracks in the “A Yard” at Proctor. Major track improvements were completed on the Iron Range Sub in 2016 as well as strengthening of the Oliver Bridge.

6. The last ship to unload coal at the former LTV Steel Mining Company dock at Taconite Harbor occurred in early August. Minnesota Power, which bought the power plant at Taconite Harbor from Cliffs Erie, ceased production of electricity there this fall and the plant is now mothballed. This vessel delivery marked the end of active transportation (inbound or outbound) from the ore dock.

5. A rare passenger extra was operated by CN for the Lexington Group in Transportation History on September 30. This trip used CN’s DM&IR-painted SD40-3 No. 403 plus LSRM’s DM&IR SD18 No. 193 and operated from Duluth to Keenan and return, with a side trip on the NSSR to Two Harbors. Bringing up the rear was DM&IR business car Northland. Also of note is that DM&IR 215 is also still active (off and on). 

4. NSM restarted production in May. A sign of improved iron ore consumption and steel production saw Cliffs restart NSM in spring.

3. United Taconite restarted production in late September after having been idled for over a year. This restart saw regular activity return to CN’s dock in Duluth. Also noted was a major investment at the plant to produce a flux pellet for ArcelorMittal’s Indiana Harbor mill. That new pellet – named Mustang – should be ready for production in late spring 2017. 

2. Magnetation ceased production, with the last train of concentrate for the pellet plant at Reynolds, Indiana departing in early October. Possible good news is that the bankrupt operation has found a potential buyer and might see a reactivation of Plant 4 in 2017 provided the sale goes through as planned.

1. Empire Closes. One of the older and larger pellet plants in the Lake Superior region ceased operation in early August when the Empire near Marquette stopped mining in early August due to its economically-recoverable ore reserve being exhausted. Most of its pellet stockpile was moved by CN by mid-October, leaving just 150,000 tons at the plant for shipment this spring via LS&I through Marquette. Originally placed in service in 1963, Empire has long fed the former C&NW dock at Escanaba and with its closure it is unknown what will become of CN’s facility there. The Tilden mine remains in operation and small amounts of that plant’s production is typically routed through Escanaba but at levels too low to justify keeping the dock open on a regular basis.      


Dave Schauer

Duluth, MN