Conditions changed with WWII. It was decided in 1944 to being mining operations. This was a massive undertaking. The city of Silver Bay was established to support a large taconite pellet plant that was built on the shore of Lake Superior. A harbor had to be built, as well as a 47 mile long railroad to connect the mine to the pellet plant. This railroad was called the Reserve Mining Railroad. It opened in 1955.
The Reserve Mining Company was a major taconite producer for over 20 years. But world economic conditions changed in the late 1970s. Demand for steel took a major drop in 1982. Reserve scaled back production, and finally closed on July 31, 1986. The mining operations, pellet plant, harbor, and railroad sat idle for several years. In the spring of 1989, demand for taconite increased, so two companies attempted to purchase the Reserve Mining Company. The Cleveland Cliffs company lost out to Cyprus Minerals, so the mine became Cyprus Northshore in 1990. Cleveland Cliffs purchased the former Reserve Mining Company in 1994. The railroad took the name Northshore Mining Railroad.
Traffic volume today is four trains per day loaded, with four empty trains returning northbound. It takes about two hours to make the run downhill from Babbitt to Silver Bay, two hours to dump the train using a rotary dumper, and two hours to return to the mine. The rail line was once fully double-tracked. However, with lower train volumes and larger trains, much of the route is single track with CTC (centralized traffic control) signals controlling train movements.
The Northshore Mining Railroad Bridge over the Saint Louis River is one of those places where you really have to want to visit before you will actually make the trip. It is located 3-1/2 hours from my home in the Twin Cities by car. Once you arrive in the area, it is a 6 mile drive down a forest road, then a 3 mile trip along a 4x4 trail, and then a 1/4-mile walk on the ATV trail. What you are rewarded with is a view of the very first bring over the Saint Louis River when heading downstream from its headwaters at Seven Beaver Lake. A nearby ATV trail bridge makes this trek even more worthwhile as you get two bridges for the price of one adventure. Bring plenty of insect repellent, however.
Prior to my visit to this bridge in the summer of 2010, I had this site confused with the nearby LTV/Erie Mining Railroad. The LTV line closed in 2001. As a result, I was very surprised to see shiny rails on this rail line. This is a good example of why one should always expect a train to be coming, even if they think that a route is abandoned or unused.
The photo above is looking north down the length of the Northshore Mining Rail Bridge along the length of the unused west roadbed. The photo above is a similar view looking down down the center of the active rail line. Note the use of guard rails between the tracks to prevent any derailed cars from falling into the Saint Louis River.