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LS&M economic impact study released

The Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad train carries passengers along a scenic route next to the St. Louis River in Duluth. (2015 file photo / News Tribune)

The University of Minnesota Duluth Bureau of Business and Economic Research released an economic impact study Thursday on the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad.

The study examined three possible scenarios for the scenic railroad that runs along the St. Louis River through Duluth's western neighborhoods. The first scenario was if the LS&M track stayed the way it is. The second scenario reflected the impact of keeping the track at its current length and also extending the Western Waterfront Trail the full length of the rail line.

The third scenario looks at the potential impact of removing the last 1.8 miles of rail line and extending the trail for most of the route and the portion that would be removed. The rail line would be removed to allow for Superfund cleanup of the former U.S. Steel plant in Morgan Park.

According to the study, the LS&M's economic impact for 2018 was $1.3 million in output, with visitors spending an average of $40.81 for a day visit and $130.10 for an overnight visit. In the second scenario, according to the study, the train would likely increase ridership by 20 percent.

In the third scenario, according to the study, the train would likely see a 40 percent decline in ridership and and about $400,000 less in visitor spending.

According to a survey given to LS&M passengers, 97 percent of respondents said they would definitely or probably recommend the train ride to others. If the train ride was shortened by approximately 30 minutes round-trip, 61 percent of respondents said they were less likely to recommend the train ride.

A proposed plan regarding the railroad has yet to be brought in front of the Duluth City Council. The Friends of the Western Duluth Parks and Trails community organization asked UMD's Bureau of Business and Economic Research to conduct this study. Although LS&M operates the train service, the rail corridor itself belongs to the city of Duluth.