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Railroad's View: Show us same consideration as other historic sites

I am a volunteer on the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad, and I read the Feb. 22 article about the U.S. Steel Superfund cleanup in western Duluth and how it might affect our train operations ("After U.S. Steel cleanup, rail or trail? Work m...

Scott B. Post
Scott B. Post is one of the many volunteers who keep the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad running each summer in western Duluth. Post is a volunteer conductor and locomotive engineer. (Photo by Nancy Post)

I am a volunteer on the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad, and I read the Feb. 22 article about the U.S. Steel Superfund cleanup in western Duluth and how it might affect our train operations (“After U.S. Steel cleanup, rail or trail? Work may disrupt or kill sightseeing train service”).
The original Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad was the first railroad into Duluth in 1871. It ran between Duluth and St. Paul. Our present-day tourist train runs on the original railroad track from Riverside Marina to Boy Scout Landing in Gary-New Duluth. Some of the rails are marked “Carnegie Steel Co. Ltd. E. T. 93 IIIIIII.” This means these rails were manufactured in July 1893 at the Edgar Thomson Works in North Braddock, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh. Investor J.P. Morgan acquired Carnegie Steel in 1901 to form U.S. Steel, and this facility was then known as the Mon Valley Works. This is a historic testament of a durable product from that era. How many items in our households are still functional after 122 years?
Though not officially designated, this is a historic railroad corridor by its very existence. This historic track was given to the city of Duluth in 1980 by the Burlington Northern Railway (now BNSF) with the intent that it be used to operate a historic tourist train.
The idea that the city would consider using this historic rail roadbed for another use is unconscionable. I would hope our rail corridor would be given the same respect and consideration as other historic sites in Duluth. A lot of sweat equity has gone into this rail corridor in the form of track maintenance ever since the day the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad was formed, per our agreement with the city of Duluth. Some of those founders are no longer with us, and we honor all our founders’ contributions to this railroad.
The present-day Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad has been in business nearly 35 years; it is an important part of Duluth’s history and heritage and is worth saving.
Our railroad is completely staffed by volunteers. There are no paid positions on this railroad. We volunteer for the love of history and railroading. Seeing a smile on a parent’s and child’s face as they blow the locomotive whistle and ring the bell on a cab tour is priceless. People learn a lot about Duluth’s history along this corridor during train rides. Our narrators also point out the importance of trains in our economy as they pass by our depot or rumble overhead on the Oliver Bridge, hauling tank cars, taconite, automobiles, Canadian lumber and intermodal containers full of products that help maintain our modern standard of living. We are also part of Operation Lifesaver, handing out literature to parents and children about how to be safe around trains. We believe this to be an important part of our train ride, and our society is safer because of this.
Our riders spend money in other parts of the community, including at convenience stores, restaurants, Lake Superior Zoo, Spirit Mountain, motels and other businesses in western Duluth. Our railroad also spends money in the community for fuel and lubricants for our locomotive and track equipment, repairs and parts for our rolling stock, office supplies, and replacement railroad ties for the rail grade. This helps maintain jobs and helps the Duluth-area economy.
There is no doubt this Superfund environmental cleanup needs to take place and is long overdue. When it is finished, it is U.S. Steel’s responsibility to restore the tracks that we run on to their original condition. The tracks were here long before the steel mill was built. It would seem the China shop parable applies here: “You break it, you bought it.”
To replace the tracks with a hiking or bicycle trail, as is being considered, would give access to the St. Louis River area only to the physically fit. Our tourist train gives access to this area to everyone, including those who are unable to or not inclined to walk or bike but who enjoy seeing the beauty of the area up close.
With proper wetlands mitigation paid for by U.S. Steel, there is no reason why our historic railroad and a hiking and bicycle trail cannot operate side by side in this area. The Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad is entirely open to the coexistence of such a trail beside our tracks. It would be a win-win for all, and I ask the people of Duluth to please make your positions known to the mayor and City Council.

Scott B. Post of Maplewood, Minn., is a conductor and locomotive engineer on the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad, a tourist train in western Duluth.

Volunteers at work
Volunteers repair the tracks, maintain the engines and accomplish all other operations of the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad, a tourist train that runs from about Lake Superior Zoo to about Boy Scout Landing in Gary-New Duluth.(Photo by Lynne Harrington Hall)

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