Araquan Skytracer (araquan) wrote in railroading,
Araquan Skytracer

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Trains Up North

The last time I had the chance to check out railroading action north of Duluth, MN was September of 2008. In spite of weather that was annoying most of the time, enough to keep me from exploring the former Duluth Missabe & Iron Range system too much, I still managed to get in a couple days of train-watching in and around Iron Junction. Some photos (of which I'm not wholly proud; maybe I'll reprocess them someday) from the first day were shared a long time ago, but none from the second day were. For various reasons the second batch was about the same, but there were a few things worth looking at. And those are the ones I share with you now:

SD38-2 210 and SDM 308 wait to enter Keenan Yard (via the track that curves off to the right) near Forbes. When this photo was taken, 308 was the last SDM still in revenue service, and it wouldn't be on the property much longer.

Illinois Central SD40-2 6260 leads two former DM&IR SD40-3s into the junction. Hauling fresh taconite pellets, their destination is Two Harbors on the shores of Lake Superior. A hodgepodge of locomotives from roads acquired by Canadian National could be found up there in 2008. Many, such as the two SD40-3s, had been repainted in CN's colors, but others still wore the colors of their former owners.

CN ES44DC 2243 brings a manifest freight south into Iron Junction. Part of the reason CN wanted to acquire the DM&IR was to increase their traffic capacity through this region; the nearby Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific, long a CN property, wasn't enough anymore. A crew member would often step out onto the front porch of the locomotive to monitor the alignment and condition of the turnouts that make up the junction, hence the open door on 2243's nose.

The signals that protect Iron Junction. Well, some of them anyway. The tracks ahead turn to the right and pass Keenan Yard and the Unitac plant near Forbes, eventually reaching Proctor Yard. The tracks that go to the left eventually reach Two Harbors.

SD38-2 211 brings a raw ore train from the Thunderbird Mine to the Unitac plant, with a Bessemer & Lake Erie SD40-3 assisting. The T-bird trains shuttle back and forth between these two relatively close facilities, and can make two round trips in a shift; if you watch trains along their route for a few hours, you're sure to see the same train twice, possibly three times. The cars that make up this train have special extensions to increase their capacity, ones taller even than those on taconite cars. Two handler cars are also found, one on each end, which lack these extensions.

Off they go. They'll be at the Unitac plant before long, where the ore will be processed into taconite pellets.

Later, IC 6250 leads more taconite cars (note the shorter extensions) to Two Harbors. I've seen the same Two Harbors train shuttle back and forth in the same session as well, but their turnaround time is much longer than the T-bird trains. Unfortunately, the conditions weren't right for the taconite pellets, which are usually still hot from the kiln, in these trains to do much in the way of steaming.

And that's it.
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