Duluth tourist railroad may be shortened

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The Lake Superior & Mississippi with its typical two coach and center-cab consist. The City of Duluth is considering shortening the length of line the railroad operates over.
Jeff Terry
DULUTH, Minn. — The Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad tourist line may soon have its line shortened under a proposal by the City of Duluth.

The scenic railroad travels 6.1 miles between the Lake Superior Zoo and Gary-New Duluth, Minn., through an area once occupied by a U.S. Steel plant. Environmental cleanup of soil at the plant site will require pulling up some LS&M track to provide access to the cleanup site. The track would then have to be restored. When the issue of remediation first came up, the City of Duluth, which owns the right-of-way, saw an opportunity to build a trail rather than restoring the track when the environmental work was completed.

That plan met heavy opposition from the railroad, which fought to retain the entire line. Now the city has offered a compromise: the Western Waterfront Trail would be extended along the waterfront and inland from the rail line in places. The LS&M would retain about 4.5 miles of line it currently operates from the Lake Superior Zoo to Mud Lake. The final 1.5 miles of line would be pulled up and replaced with a new trail. That would eliminate the causeway at Mud Lake, the scenic highlight of the line. The city claims that the causeway has cut off Mud Lake and contributed to silting of the lake. By eliminating the causeway the flow of water would increase so the lake could be restored, the city says.

“We’re all for the environmental cleanup of the U.S. Steel property,” LS&M President Andy Webb tells Trains News Wire. “But this Mud Lake issue suddenly came out of the blue at us and we really haven’t formulated an opinion. Whether we can make a go of it only to Mud Lake remains to be seen. The Mud Lake causeway crossing is considered by most of our passengers to be the most exciting when we are actually traversing a portion of the St. Louis River with water on both sides. So it’s going to be difficult to sell a trip without that tool in place.”

The railroad is advocating for culverts to be installed through the causeway, rather than eliminating it.

“We’re hoping to keep the Mud Lake causeway intact,” Webb says. A public comment period has begun on the plan, and Webb is urging supporters to ask the city to “keep the train.”

The new trail stretching to Mud Lake is expected to cost about $6.5 million to build, but the city has not identified all the sources of funding to pay it. A plan for the corridor is expected to go to the Duluth City Council in August.

LS&M also faces another hurdle. To load its trains near the popular Duluth Zoo, it must use a short stretch of BNSF track. To do so it must provide several million dollars in expensive liability insurance. The railroad is also limited on how many times it can access BNSF track each year, Webb said.

“We want to be self sustaining, but having to purchase that insurance each season kind of makes that difficult,” he says. The railroad has considered moving its boarding location to Riverside, the junction of BNSF and LS&M track, but that would shorten the ride further. LS&M has gone ahead and purchased the insurance to offer its regular ride this year.

The tourist line is part of the first railroad between St. Paul, Minn., and Duluth, also known as the Lake Superior & Mississippi, which opened on Aug. 1, 1870. The present Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad was founded in 1980 by a group of volunteers from the Lake Superior Transportation Club, taking the name of Duluth’s first railroad and using a portion of its original line. Volunteers still operate the nonprofit organization.

The railroad makes two daily trips on Saturdays and Sundays beginning June 24 and running through October. Each trip lasts about two hours. Trains consist of two former Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway heavyweight coaches and a flat car equipped with railings for open-air viewing. Motive power is a General Electric center cab 50-ton locomotive once owned by the Flambeau Paper Co. of Park Falls, Wis.

More information is available online

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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