Thursday, November 8, 2012

CN Duluth Trip - 11/2-11/3

On November 2nd and 3rd, members of REAC visited the CN facilities in Duluth, Minnesota. For those of whom who are not familiar with where Duluth is located, see the map below:

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Located at the far western tip of Lake Superior, Duluth is a major shipping center for grains and, in particular, taconite pellets. These taconite pellets are a low-grade iron-ore used in the steel making process. Since most of the steel industry is focused in and around Pennsylvania and Ohio, freighters are required to ship the pellets across Lake Superior and down Lake Huron to ports on Lake Erie.

But before they can get shipped by freighter, they must get shipped in by rail from the mines to the port. Many of these mines are located quite a ways away in North Eastern Minnesota. So, our first stop in Duluth began at the CN Proctor Yard, located in the tiny town of Proctor, MN, just west of the ore docks where we met up with Neil Chambers.

The CN Proctor Yard is one of a group of CN Yards spread throughout the Duluth region to aid the iron mining industry. A sprawling complex, the Proctor Yard sports a rail car repair facility (government regulations place heavy fines, in excess of $25,000, on the railroads if infractions are found), a locomotive servicing facility, an old round house, and over 25 tracks of varying lengths. Some of these tracks are solely dedicated to iron ore carts that pass through on a routine basis.

Three locomotives in CN Proctor Yard.
Group shot in front of CN locomotive.
Vacant roundhouse with turntable (still in use to a small degree.)
Ore carts in repair shop.
Explaining the sand chute for the wheels.
 After the Proctor Yard, our group made it's way to downtown Duluth, MN to visit the KrechOjard offices, an engineering and design firm working closely with CN on some major projects in the "Ring of Fire" region in Northern Ontario, Canada where a very large chromite deposit has been discovered.  Brandon M. Maurisak, project engineer, gave us a detailed run down of some of the rail projects KrechOjard is currently working on, and it appears to be going strong.

Our last tour of the trip ended on the shores of Lake Superior at the CN ore docks. The design of these docks were very similar to the dock (see our other field trip) in Marquette, MI. At this point, only one dock is being used at the moment as it costs a lot to fix up the supports for the docks, but iron ore shipments have been increasing. In fact, 2011 was one of the best years at the CN ore dock.

Group photo in front of CN Ore Docks, Duluth, MN.
View atop the North ore dock.
Ore chute (from staging area off to left) and ore carts.
Ore docks looking out over Duluth.
Group photo on ore dock.
The trip to Duluth was a great experience. It offered a new perspective on the iron ore mining industry and the roles that railroads and freighters play in moving raw materials from point A to point B. If you're interested in joining REAC, feel free to contact us!