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Cliffs to ship Hibbing Taconite iron ore by truck

Cliffs Natural Resources announced Friday that it will immediately begin using trucks to transport iron ore pellets from the Iron Range to the Twin Ports, citing "ongoing insufficient rail service."...

Cliffs Natural Resources announced Friday that it will immediately begin using trucks to transport iron ore pellets from the Iron Range to the Twin Ports, citing “ongoing insufficient rail service.”
Trucks will carry about 100 loads of taconite a day - 24 hours a day, seven days a week - from Hibbing Taconite to the ore docks in Superior, where it will be loaded onto Great Lakes freighters. The trucking operation is set to last about two months, the company said, but that could be extended if rail service problems persist.
“This action will ensure (our) steelmaking customers on the lower Great Lakes will have an adequate supply of pellets to maintain steelmaking operations,” Cliffs said in a news release. “While efforts are underway to secure improved rail service and address the backlog of pellets at Hibbing Taconite and other taconite operations affected by rail service problems, Cliffs needs to take immediate steps to fulfill its commitment to supply iron ore pellets to its customers.”
The company is racing against time and the weather to reduce its backlog of iron ore pellets. The shipping season on the Great Lakes typically closes in early January for more than two months. If Cliffs can’t get the pellets loaded and shipped out on ore boats by then, its steelmaking customers in the eastern U.S. won’t get the raw material they need to make it through winter.
Cliffs’ announcement comes amid months of congestion on rail lines across the nation, and particularly in the Upper Midwest. The shortage of rail service is an unintended consequence of an increase in demand to ship crude oil from North Dakota by rail. Those oil shipments now are competing for rail space with coal, grain and other products.
Mike McCoshen, president of Hallett Dock Co. in Duluth, which serves the iron ore industry, told the News Tribune last month that while taconite pellets require special railcars that hadn’t been pulled away for other uses, shipments from Iron Range mines were being hindered by a shortage of locomotives and a logjam of other rail traffic.
Two other Iron Range mines, U.S. Steel’s Keetac operation and Arcelor Mittal’s Minorca Mine, already have sent product - a special taconite “pellet chip” - to Duluth harbor docks by truck.
McCoshen said last month that in 37 years in the business, he had not previously seen Iron Range mines transporting taconite to the Twin Ports by truck.
Cliffs said its trucks will travel south from Hibbing Taconite via U.S. Highway 169, St. Louis County Highway 5, Minnesota Highway 37, and U.S. Highway 53. As they approach the Twin Ports, some will continue through Duluth on Highway 53 and go over the Blatnik Bridge. Others will follow Midway Road, Becks Road and Minnesota Highway 23 before crossing the St. Louis River and heading to Superior. The trucks’ destination will be the ore docks in Superior’s Allouez neighborhood.
“I am optimistic that the recent dialogue with rail carriers that service Hibbing Taconite and other iron ore operations will help improve movement of iron ore pellets from Northeastern Minnesota,” Lourenco Goncalves, Cliffs’ chairman, president and chief executive officer, said in a news release. “Cliffs’ local management team recognizes that the additional truck traffic may impact the local community members who live and travel along the truck route. We appreciate the community’s patience as we implement this short-term solution to transport our product.”
Cliffs is part-owner and operator of Hibbing Taconite. It also owns United Taconite in Eveleth, and NorthShore Mining in Silver Bay and Babbitt, as well as the Tilden-Empire mining operations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

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