Promising that he won’t be back for another 40 years if the request is granted, the president of the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad asked the House Minnesota Heritage Finance Division to include $450,000 in its bonding bill to fix up tracks.
The railroad’s president, Andrew Webb, asked the division Feb. 18 for help to upgrade the remaining 5 miles of the 138-year-old track just outside Duluth. No action was taken on the bill, HF2703, sponsored by Rep. Mike Jaros (DFL-Duluth), the division chairman. There is no Senate companion.
The railroad. a nonprofit, run by volunteers, must conform to federal operating standards even though it’s a tourist route, Webb said. The organization needs the money to buy and install 2,000 new railway ties, because only seven of the group’s 22 volunteers are “able-bodied” enough to pound a railroad spike into the ground, he said.
“A properly installed railroad tie will last somewhere between 40 and 50 years, so don’t expect us to see us back in the next 40 years,” Webb said.
The original railroad was a land grant railroad, the first to connect Duluth to St. Paul, dedicated by the Legislature in 1863. The Civil War delayed construction until 1865, and the tracks reached Duluth five years later. By 1970, competition from more powerful trains had long since forced the company out of business and only 5 miles of tracks remained, Webb said.
Local efforts transformed the track into a scenic route near the St. Louis River, using historic coaches from the 1900s, Webb said. He added that the group has operated the railway for almost 30 years without subsidies from state or local government.
“We try to recreate train travel as it was in the 1870s and 1880s,” he said. “It’s a labor of love.”
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