ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

BNSF terminal serves rail, sea

Drivers passing under a yellow-covered overhead bridge on Highway 2 in the Allouez neighborhood may scarcely be aware of what lies at either end. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe taconite facility is a unique combination of rail and sea. The over...

We are part of The Trust Project.

Drivers passing under a yellow-covered overhead bridge on Highway 2 in the Allouez neighborhood may scarcely be aware of what lies at either end. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe taconite facility is a unique combination of rail and sea. The overhead yellow structure is a small but vital part of the operation that moves Minnesota taconite pellets from the Iron Range to places such as Burns Harbor, Indiana, Lorraine, Ohio, Gary, Ind., Hamilton, Ontario, and in 2007, Algeria.

"The taconite pellet begins its trip through our facility at either Keewatin or Hibbing Taconite," said Stan Ujka, BNSF terminal manager. "Taconite is loaded on to the trains, usually consisting of 184 cars, for the trip to our Allouez facility."

Depending on the type of taconite and its destination, the trains arrive at one of two unloading areas referred to as "The old car dump" or "The new car dump". Both are similar in their automatic unloading capabilities. The train will enter a covered area with dust control equipment. Cars loaded with taconite are automatically emptied by means of equipment that opens the bottom, allowing material to flow onto a conveyor system located below. Three cars are emptied at a time, then the automated system closes the gates on the bottom of the car and pulls the train forward, repeating the process until all cars are emptied.

The taconite is conveyed on belts through the facility. It may be destined for stockpiling in segregated areas depending on product type, or it may travel to a vessel loading dock on the waterfront.

"There is no ship traffic this time of year, but the mines continue to produce pellets. We stockpile pellets here for the start of the shipping season. Our facility can stockpile about 5 million tons of pellets," Ujka said. "In 2007, the facility handled approximately 11 million tons of pellets, loading 312 ships."

ADVERTISEMENT

At the waterfront end of the operation is the ship loading dock. Pellets are transferred in a covered conveyor system that, at one point, passes over Highway 2 traffic. At the dock, it can be loaded into storage silos or directly into the ship. Unlike the gravity-fed ore docks at the DM&IR facility in Duluth, the BNSF docks use conveyor belts that reach out over the open holds of the ship. Taconite can be precisely loaded into any part of a particular hold at the direction of the ship's crew.

"The Allouez Taconite facility is remarkably efficient," Ujka said. "Under the right conditions, we can unload an arriving train and directly load a ship with taconite in about six hours, using just three employees."

The trip of a taconite pellet upon the BNSF conveyor system is about seven miles. Constant maintenance is one of the key ingredients to the 24-hour-a-day, year-round operation. Many of the 75 full time employees perform maintenance.

"BNSF serves other interests on Superior's waterfront," Ujka said. "The Peavey/Con-Ag elevators are also a part of our service area, as are the Cenex Harvest States and General Mills elevators."

Ujka , a 17 year employee of BNSF, said the company takes pride in its aggressive efforts to serve the communities where BNSF operates.

"Railroading is a tough, demanding, and challenging job," he said, "but it is also a very rewarding job." "Several workers at the BNSF taconite facility have 30+ years seniority. The demand for our services increases each year, which means the need for additional staff in the future."

What to read next