Iron Range mines rely on trucks after train tracks wash outRecent flooding has taken a toll not only on the Northland’s roads but also on its rail lines, complicating operations for Iron Range mines.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Recent flooding has taken a toll not only on the Northland’s roads but also on its rail lines, complicating operations for Iron Range mines.
With trains temporarily out of service, Minntac has hired trucks to supply its plant with limestone — an essential ingredient in the pellets it produces for steel mills.
Steve Kaneski of Lakehead Trucking said the company has 25 to 28 trucks dedicated to 24-hour service, supplying the plant in Mountain Iron. The trucks leave the Twin Ports loaded with limestone and return with waste rock from the mine that’s being used as ballast to repair washed-out rail beds. The trucks then reload and repeat the process, logging as many trips as they can.
Kaneski said Lakehead is just one of the trucking companies engaged in keeping Minntac up and running. He estimated that 50 to 60 trucks in all are hauling for the plant.
It takes a lot of trucks to take the place of a train, said Adolph Ojard, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. He said four trucks would be needed to move the equivalent of one railcar’s worth of cargo.
Courtney Boone, a spokeswoman for U.S. Steel Corp., which owns Minntac and Keewatin Taconite, declined comment on the effect of the rail service disruption on operations.
Patrick Waldron, a spokesman for Canadian National Railway, owner of the former Duluth Missabe and Iron Range Railway, acknowledged damage to tracks in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin.
“We have crews out there continuing to do repairs. We’re working to restore service as quickly as possible,” he said.
Waldron said he could not predict exactly when CN’s system would be fully operational again but said it would probably be a matter of days.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway also has been affected.
“We have several locations that have been impacted by washouts, and we are out of service in those locations,” said Amy McBeth, a BNSF spokeswoman.
But McBeth said repairs are advancing, and that key portions of BNSF track should return to operation today and Saturday.
Even though pellet shipments from the mines to ore docks in the Twin Ports and Two Harbors have been temporarily disrupted, laker traffic should not be affected by a brief rail outage, said Ojard, who noted that ample inventories of pellets are piled at ore docks in Duluth and Superior.
Herb James, supervisor of the BNSF taconite terminal in Superior, said that more than 1 million tons of pellets are stockpiled at his facility.
“We’re certainly monitoring the situation with rail service, and we’re hopeful they will be able to repair whatever they need to quickly,” said Sandy Karnowski, district manager of public affairs for Cliffs Natural Resources, which manages Northshore Mining Co., Hibbing Taconite Co. and United Taconite Co.
She said Cliffs does not anticipate the interruption in train service will affect its overall production.
Hibbing Taconite and United Taconite continue to operate as usual, Karnowski said.
Meanwhile, Northshore Mining Co. is in the midst of a previously scheduled maintenance shutdown. The plant was scheduled to restart operations today, but Karnowski said the restart will be delayed by a couple of days because of turbid water conditions in Lake Superior. She explained that Northshore draws water for its powerhouse from the lake, and it requires a source of clean water.