Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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AARR
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Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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Michigan Northern (MIGN) started service in 1984 on the ex-MIGN/PC/PENN/???? from Comstock Park Jct. (MP 239.4) to Ashton (MP 310.6) for 71 miles. In 1989 they acquired the line from Baldwin (MP 107.3) to Evart (MP 75.7) for 32 miles. In the early 90's the line was cut back from Ashton to Reed City (MP 302.7) reducing eight miles. In the late 90's the line was cut back from Baldwin to Reed City (MP 89.2) when interchange with CSX moved from Baldwin to Grand Rapids. This reduced track miles by 18. Currently total track mileage is 77 miles. Interchanges are with CSX (via trackage rights in Wyoming Yard) and GDLK (via the sand transload yard north of Fuller Jct.) in Grand Rapids.

MIGN started out in 1984 with a pair of ex-MIGN/AC GP-7's:
Owner: Michigan Northern
Model: EMD GP7 Built As: UP 706 (GP7)
Serial Number: 17833
Order No: 6483
Frame Number: 6483-7 Built: 2/1953
Notes: Acquired 1984
Other locos with this serial: MIGN 1601(GP7) NIMX 1601(GP7) UP 1601(GP7)
Image

Owner: Michigan Northern
Model: EMD GP7 Built As: UP 709 (GP7)
Serial Number: 17836
Order No: 6483
Frame Number: 6483-10 Built: 3/1953
Notes: ex-UP 709
Other locos with this serial: MIGN 1602(GP7) NIMX 1602(GP7) UP 709(GP7)
Image

They added an ex-C&O GP-10 in 1997:
Owner: Michigan Northern
Model: Rebuilt EMD GP10 Built As: CO 5910 (GP9)
Serial Number: 20192
Order No: 5379
Frame Number: 5379-10 Built: 12/1954
Notes: ex-IC,C&O
Other locos with this serial: MIGN 8323(GP10) PAL 8323(GP10) ICG 7715(GP10) CO 5910(GP9)
Image

The engine house is in Reed City.

Customer History:
• Initially serviced handful of customers from Rockford to Ashton including Rockford Paperboard (inbound chemicals, paper scrap and outbound cardboard), Martin Marietta in Cedar Springs (inbound agricultural Lime), Howard City Paper (outbound scrap paper bales), Yoplait Yogurt in Reed City (inbound feedstock) and Lake States Lumber in Ashton (outbound pulpwood logs). There were a handful of other small customers.
• On the Baldwin-Evart line initially serviced Evart Products in Evart (inbound plastic pellets).

Current Customer List:
• Display Pak in Cedar Springs opened in 2015 and receives about one to three cars of plastic pellets per week.
• Truss Technologies in Cedar Springs opened in 1992 and receives one to four cars a month of lumber.
• Sietsema Farm Feeds built a 6,000 ton per week feed mill in 2001 in Howard City. It took a few years to ramp up but after hitting full capacity 30% of its feed arrive by rail in a mixture of cottonseed high-top, end unlading hoppers (about 10%), covered hoppers (about 60%) and tank cars (about 30%). They receive 12-17 cars per week.
• Ice Mountain in Stanwood opened in 2011 and receives one to three cars of plastic pellets per week.
• Yoplait Yogurt in Reed City has been a customer from the beginning and still receives five to seven cars a week of various sweeteners.
• Lake States Lumber in Reed City has been a customer from the beginning but moved its loading from Ashton to Reed City in the early 90's when carloads dropped from five to nine cars per week to one to two. However, they wait until they can load four to eight cars then they ship so service is usually about once a month.
• Michigan Pot Ash (formerly Kalium/IMC Pot Ash) opened in 1997 in Hersey. They shipped 720 cars of pot ash in the first year and have grown substantially since. Currently they ship 65-87 cars a week. They are projected to possibly double again in the next 5-10 years. Most of the cars go to CSX in 90-car unit trains for export (China is a major destination). However, cars also go out in smaller blocks of 5-75 car units to fertilizer terminals around the country.
• Ventra Evart (formerly Evart Products, Collins Aikman and Textron) has been a customer from the beginning. They still receive around two cars of plastic pellets a week.

Operations consists of the crew going on duty M-F at 7am and running wherever needed. They average two to three round trips between Grand Rapids and Hersey and once a week they go to Evart.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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MIGN is forecasting between 4,378 and 6,091 carloads in 2022. Pot Ash will account for about 3,325-4,430 of those carloads.

New welded rail will be laid this year as the heavy pot ash trains takes its toll on the tracks especially the curve in Reed City.

The pair of ex-CR SD38's and three older Geeps, are scheduled to be overhauled soon. The heavy pot ash trains take a toll on the engines. The crew really like them. The SD38’s are excellent pullers. As potash traffic grows MIGN may look at new power.

MIGN falls well short of the 100 cars per one mile per year standard of profitability. Michigan Potash pays a subsidy to make up the difference. MP is the primary investor toward upgrading the track to 286,000-pound standard.

MIGN pays its bills but is only marginally profitable.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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Here is a rundown of MIGN's operations:
• Monday morning a crew takes a pair of Geeps (push-pull) and departs CSX's Wyoming Yard. It has cars for every customer between Grand Rapids and Evart. The only cars it carries for MI Potash are empties for small blocks of 5 or less. Upon arriving at GDLK's sand transload yard (currently out of service) they pick up a NS block that was delivered by GDLK. It works all customers enroute tying up in Evart. Its typical train consist is 20-50 cars.

• Tuesday morning the same crew will take two SD38-3's and the other Geep and depart Hersey for Grand Rapids with potash often in the 57-77 car range. They set out NS cars in GDLK's sand transload yard (usually 10-50 cars) and depart for CSX's Wyoming Yard with the rest. CSX often gets a 90-car block for export to China.

• Wednesday the crew boards the Geeps in Evart and works to at least Howard City to switch Sietsema (and Yoplait and MI Potash enroute) and if necessary, but infrequently, further south toward Grand Rapids for whomever else requires work. They shuffle cars around at the three industries spotting them where they are needed. They end their day back in Evart.

• Thursday the crew reports to CSX's Wyoming Yard and takes potash empties for Hersey picking up more potash empties in GDLK's sand transload yard (cars from NS) enroute and head straight to Hersey spotting their cars in the yard.

• Friday the crew boards the Geeps in Evart and go to CSX's Wyoming Yard switching industries and GDLK's sand transload yard (NS interchange) enroute.

Up until recently the two SD38-3's could handle the MI Potash cars but a big increase in their production (they are already increasing their forecasted output from what was posted a couple posts above) so one of the Geeps was added to the potash consist of. Motive power is strained now. MIGN is in the market for another Geep or SD38 (a leased SD38-2 is scheduled to arrive shortly, an ex-Reserve Mining unit). But they are holding off the purchase until the benefits of adding a couple modern (but not new) SD70 types that can handle the long and heavy potash trains can be explored. This would free up the other engines for other services.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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Engine Roster and Update:
Owner: Michigan Northern
Model: EMD SD38 Built As: PC 6925 (SD38)
Serial Number: 36406
Order No: 7264
Frame Number: 7264-1 Built: 4/1970
Notes: Ex-PC
Other locos with this serial: MIGN 3800(SD38) NS 3800(SD38) CR 6925(SD38)
Image

Owner: Michigan Northern
Model: EMD SD38 Built As: PC 6935 (SD38)
Serial Number: 36416
Order No: 7264
Frame Number: 7264-11 Built: 4/1970
Notes: Ex-PC
Other locos with this serial: MIGN 3807(SD38) NS 3807(SD38) CR 6935(SD38)
Image

Owner: General American Marks Company
Model: EMD SD38-2 Built As: RSMX 1243 (SD38-2)
Serial Number: 786142-7
Order No: 786142
Frame Number: 786142-7 Built: 10/1978
Notes: ex-RSMX
Other locos with this serial: GATX 1243(SD38-2) LLPX 2807(SD38-2) IAIS 152(SD38-2) RSMX 1243(SD38-2)
Image

In other news GLC/CN are making a very strong pitch to Michigan Potash to transload at GLC's transload in Cadillac (originally built for this exact purpose by TSBY in 1997) or even offering to build a covered transload in Clare. Currently, no interchange takes place between CN and MIGN due to legal barriers which increase the price beyond competitiveness compared to CSX and NS. In theory, if price was not a factor, MIGN could interchange with CN via GDLK. At this time there is not much MIGN can do except continue to provide great service and customer response. Michigan Potash has increased its forecasted rail shipments from 3,324-4,432 cars.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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This threat to MIGN's potash traffic is getting real. CN/GLC targeted around 997-1,330 carloads annually that can be transloaded on GLC (Cadillac or Clare) and hauled to Durand for interchange with CN. Most of those would be siphoned away from MIGN's connection with GDLK/NS. A small percentage of CSX carload traffic would also be up for grabs. The only traffic that is untouchable are the 90 car unit trains per month that CSX handles for export on the east coast and the occasional unit train for NS (via GDLK). MIGN is meeting with Michigan Potash (MP) officials to discuss what it will take to keep 100% of their business. MP likes MIGN's service (one train to Grand Rapids and back each week). They are happy with GDLK's handling of NS's potash traffic. They are also satisfied with how CSX handles the 90-cars and NS the occasional 50-car unit trains. But they are not happy with how CSX and NS handle carload traffic. They believe CN will do a better job and are even willing to pay a little more for their better service. If MP chose the existing GLC transload in Cadillac, they could begin service immediately. But if they require a covered transload in Clare it will be a while before the start. In the meantime, MIGN is talking to CSX and NS officials about what can be done to improve carload service.

Also, MIGN will not make any long-term decisions about engines until this situation is resolved. For now, the three Geeps, two SD38's and one leased SD38-2 will remain as-is. If CN managed to get the potash business, then the sixth engine would no longer be needed, nor would there be the need for more modern power (such as an SD70 version).
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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Michigan Potash is insisting that if they move any of their traffic to a transload on GLC it will have to be in a covered area near Clare. MP still has nightmares about the transload in Cadillac where in 1997 they were going to start shipping but the open transload was subject to the elements and the wind blew a significant amount of potash across a field and covered the cars in a parking lot. TSBY paid for the cleanup out of its pocket, but MP is not willing to attempt it again in fear that because they have knowledge of this, they could be found liable if it is attempted again.

Also, Michigan Potash will not contribute financially toward a covered transload in Clare. They are ok paying a little more for the transportation of their pot ash but do not want to spend toward any capital infrastructure. This decision is from MP's lawyers who do not want to be liable for the building. GLC and CN are discussing what their next step is. There is a strong cash flow between both CN and GLC, as both are two of the better managed companies in their industries.

In the short term MIGN's pot ash business is safe and lucrative. CSX and NS have stepped up under the threat of losing up to 1,330 carloads per year to better handle their share of the loose car business which is contributing to MP not feeling pressured to have to change.

MIGN will not make any engine decisions for now. The three Geeps and three SDs are handling the business just fine.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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GLC is clearing land west of Clare at the old Mid-Michigan Recycling location to build a covered, two track transload for pot ash from Michigan Potash. They believe that up to 1,330 (out of 4,432 that is shipped by MP) carloads a year will transload here for interchange with CN in Durand. CN is investing in the project. MP will not allocate any money toward the transload site but said they are eager to divert carload business away from CSX/NS. They are very dissatisfied with those two.

If CN/GLC is successful, MIGN will go from being marginally profitable to red ink unless additional traffic can replace it, which at this time seems very unlikely.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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MIGN has entered into an agreement with WATCO to move potash traffic to CN via Kalamazoo. With its connection to CN in Kalamazoo, GDLK will be able to interchange potash at a far lower cost than transloading it with GLC in Clare. GLC has immediately stopped construction of the transload in Clare.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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The traffic haulage agreement with WATCO’s GDLK is official. GDLK will haul potash from their connection with MIGN north of Fuller Jct. taking it to CN in Kalamazoo. With the agreement in place, MIGN will acquire the SD38-2 1234 it has been leasing from GATX. It ,and the other five MIGN engines, will hold down the weekday jobs.

Also, due to market shifts with China there will be fewer 90-car unit trains and more of the smaller blocks. Potash traffic will continue to be a strong commodity for MIGN with adjusted levels expected to be in the 64-85 per week range. MIGN will continue to handle it as a single unit train out of Hersey and setouts at GDLK and CSX. Another change is the distribution with CN added will reduce the number of cars going to CSX and NS. CSX will receive about 60% (38-51 per week), CN about 30% (19-26 per week) and NS 10% (6-9 per week).
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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Michigan Potash is forecasting increasing production in the coming years. Currently they produce 650,000 tons annually (75% is shipped by rail, the rest by local trucks). They believe that the demand for their product could result in 1,000,000 tons annual output within the next five to ten years. This would push their outbound rail shipments near 7,000 cars per year, which would change how MIGN handles their traffic and what motive power will best service it.

MIGN is always looking for non-potash customers too. These are a little more difficult to come by. MIGN has been successful in attracting a couple plastic manufacturers in recent years and their good service created growth opportunities with the feed mill. The average railroad loses 10% of its business per year so they need to find 10% just to stay even.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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2023 was another record year for traffic from Michigan Potash. 5,000 cars were handled from the mine. In addition, Cargill, who operates the salt operation at the mine, started shipping food-grade products in bulk as well, averaging up to 30 cars per week.

The track between Hersey and Evart has been dormant since the only customer in Evart switched from direct service to transloading (from the Northern Logistics Poly Pavilion in Clare). Also, the track between Reed City and Ashton have been dormant since the early 1990’s when the lumber mill closed. Both segments are used for car storage. Currently there are no plans to abandon and remove the track.

The rest of the customers looks like this:
• Cedar Springs – Display Pak: Receives one to three cars per week of plastic pellets.
• Cedar Springs – Truss Technologies: Receives one to four centerbeams of lumber per month.
• Cedar Springs – Brink Farms: Receives six to 12 cars per week of agricultural lime. They can only unload six cars at a time on their short spur.
• Stanwood – Ice Mountain: Receives three to five cars per week of plastic pellets.
• Reed City – Yoplait: Receives five to seven cars per week of food product ingredients.
• Hersey – Cargill Salt and Michigan Potash: Ships up to 30 cars a week of food-grade salt in bulk and 100 cars per week of potash.

GP7’s 1601 and 1602 are over 70 years old and GP10 8323 is around 50 years old. They are becoming less dependable. Car counts are increasing, and loads are heavier so MIGN would normally acquire new units but with the new EPA emission laws their replacements may be very expensive. A complete rebuild is a possibility which would permit them to retain Tier 3 emission standards. MIGN management is assessing the situation.

SD38’s 3800 and 3807 are over 50 years old and still have original components. Their service availability is also dropping as the years add up. They are perfectly suited for hauling the heavy potash loads at medium speeds between Hersey and Grand Rapids but with potash traffic projected to grow MIGN management will have to evaluate whether to rebuild them (at an economical cost) and retain Tier 3 emission standards or acquire used more modern power (higher cost but can reduce engines from three to two and meet new/higher emission standards). There are used-SD70 versions available for reasonable pricing. Again, MIGN management is assessing this.

SD38-2 1243 is safe for now. It is over 40 years old but still has some good years ahead of it. It will be overhauled in 2024 and put back into potash service.

With the growing potash traffic and the addition of salt, operations have changed:
• A local covers the entire line five days per week going to Grand Rapids twice a week and Cargill three times per week.
• A potash unit train makes two round trips per week between Michigan Potash and Grand Rapids.

MIGN has had some issues with Foamers stealing artifacts from the engines and property. However, if you stay off the property you will have no problems railfanning the line. Note that Cargill/Michigan Potash does not allow visitors on their property so the only way to get good pictures of railroad activity inside their terminal is by drone.

Reed City is a good location to take photos because MIGN must reverse direction by running around their train when going between Hersey and Grand Rapids. There is no room to put a second wye track in, so the only connection faces north.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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AARR wrote:
Sat Jan 06, 2024 7:52 pm

SD38’s 3800 and 3807 are over 50 years old and still have original components. Their service availability is also dropping as the years add up. They are perfectly suited for hauling the heavy potash loads at medium speeds between Hersey and Grand Rapids but with potash traffic projected to grow MIGN management will have to evaluate whether to rebuild them (at an economical cost) and retain Tier 3 emission standards or acquire used more modern power (higher cost but can reduce engines from three to two and meet new/higher emission standards). There are used-SD70 versions available for reasonable pricing. Again, MIGN management is assessing this.
https://youtu.be/bq3SyhqhLhw?si=Guy1SEXMwc6N--Pc

Why buy new when you can convert them to SD23T4’s? Can meet Tier 4 emissions.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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Thanks for the suggestion! I will definitely check this out as an option.
David Collins wrote:
Sat Jan 06, 2024 8:01 pm
AARR wrote:
Sat Jan 06, 2024 7:52 pm

SD38’s 3800 and 3807 are over 50 years old and still have original components. Their service availability is also dropping as the years add up. They are perfectly suited for hauling the heavy potash loads at medium speeds between Hersey and Grand Rapids but with potash traffic projected to grow MIGN management will have to evaluate whether to rebuild them (at an economical cost) and retain Tier 3 emission standards or acquire used more modern power (higher cost but can reduce engines from three to two and meet new/higher emission standards). There are used-SD70 versions available for reasonable pricing. Again, MIGN management is assessing this.
https://youtu.be/bq3SyhqhLhw?si=Guy1SEXMwc6N--Pc

Why buy new when you can convert them to SD23T4’s? Can meet Tier 4 emissions.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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MIGN announced it will acquire a pair of GP38-2’s and a pair of SD70’s. Once acquired, both GP7’s, the GP10 and both SD38’s will be retired. Both 7’s and the 10 will be scrapped and the 38’s will be sold.

Owner: Michigan Northern
Model: EMD SD70M Built As: UP 4000 (SD70M)
Serial Number: 996164-1
Order No: 996164
Frame Number: 996164-1 Built: 4/2000
Notes: Acq 2024. Rblt 2024.
Other locos with this serial: MIGN 4000(SD70M) UP 4000(SD70M)
Image

Owner: Michigan Northern
Model: EMD SD70M Built As: UP 4001 (SD70M)
Serial Number: 996164-2
Order No: 996164
Frame Number: 996164-2 Built: 4/2000
Notes: Acq 2024. Rblt 2024.
Other locos with this serial: MIGN 4001(SD70M) UP 4001(SD70M)
Image

Owner: Michigan Northern
Model: EMD GP38-2 Built As: AWP 6007 (GP38-2)
Serial Number: 786206-2
Order No: 786206
Frame Number: 786206-2 Built: 4/1979
Notes: Acq 2024
Other locos with this serial: MIGN 2659(GP38-2) CSX 2659(GP38-2) SBD 2659(GP38-2) SBD 6008(GP38-2) AWP 6008(GP38-2)
Image

Owner: Michigan Northern
Model: EMD GP38-2 Built As: AWP 6008 (GP38-2)
Serial Number: 786206-1
Order No: 786206
Frame Number: 786206-1 Built: 4/1979
Notes: Acq 2024
Other locos with this serial: MIGN 2658(GP38-2) CSX 2658(GP38-2) SBD 2658(GP38-2) SBD 6007(GP38-2) AWP 6007(GP38-2)
Image

Both GP38-2’s were rebuilt in 2010 and 2011 respectively and are good for another five to six years. The SD70M’s will be rebuilt by Motive Power Resources in Minooka, Illinois.

With the acquisition of the SD70M’s, SD38-2 1243 will be used as a backup for both the GP38-2’s in local service and the SD70M’s in the potash job. It is currently being rebuilt by Peaker Services in Brighton, Michigan. Peaker is about to undertake a massive rebuilding contract with CSX and will not have the capacity/resources for MIGN’s SD70M’s.

As forecasted, potash traffic from Michigan Potash in Hersey is up 10% over 2023 at this time and that trend is expected to continue. They are shipping an average of 80-110 cars per week which is handled by a dedicated job that makes two round trips a week between Hersey and Grand Rapids. The two SD70M’s will be able to handle the potash trains while in the past it would take three engines.
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Re: Michigan Northern (MIGN)

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GP38-2’s 2658 and 2659 have entered service and are usually used on the local freight. GP7’s 1601 and 1602 have been retired and sold. GP10 8323 is stored serviceable. When the SD70M’s arrive the GP10 will be officially retired and scrapped / sold. The SD70Ms are expected sometime in the 3rd quarter of 2024.

SD38’s 3800 and 3807 are assigned to the potash train along with SD38-2 1243. Both SD38’s will be retired and sold / scrapped after the SD70M’s arrive.

All track is rated at 286,000 lbs. except the two dormant segments from Reed City to Ashton and Hersey to Evart which are rated for 263,000 lbs. and are used for car storage.

The collaboration with GDLK has worked out well. It’s like the one AA has with GLC. MIGN was close to losing a significant amount of potash traffic to a transload GLC was building in Clare. At the last minute GDLK and MIGN agreed to interchange potash traffic as a single line rather than two separate ones. This was especially helpful with traffic for CN which was in jeopardy of transferring to Clare. Now potash traffic for CN goes via GDLK to Kalamazoo where it is interchanged with CN. It averages over 30 cars a week.

Most potash traffic goes to CSX in Grand Rapids (about 60%) and the least amount to NS in Elkhart (about 10%).
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