HUMBOLDT TOWNSHIP — Thursday marked day two of the fourth annual Michigan Rail Conference.

This year marks the first time the conference, which is an event designed to gather stakeholders in rail transportation to discuss facets of the industry, was held in the Upper Peninsula. The conference’s second day allowed visitors to get a first-hand look at local rail sites under the U.P.’s warm August sun. Before visiting some of the larger, more traditional rail sites, conference attendees stopped at the Eagle Mine’s Humboldt Mill, where just outside, the unique railroad company that serves the mill was on display.

“We are really blessed to have the Mineral Range, which is a fairly new railroad, and that’s pretty unique,” said Pasi Lautala, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the Rail Transportation Program at Michigan Tech.

“Mineral Range is a small family startup short line railroad,” said Clint Jones, President of the Mineral Range Railroad. “We ran our first train on October 1st of 2014 and we’ve been hard at it ever since.”

Jones said that the conference provided the small company a chance to familiarize other players in the rail industry with its presence while also allowing for networking opportunities. The conference and subsequent tours also served to drive home the importance of rail transportation.

“Even though we are a somewhat remote area in the Upper Peninsula, the rail transportation is a really important part of our economy and our transportation network up here,” Lautala added.

“Railroads still do handle a little over forty percent of all the ton-miles in commercial freight that moves in the United States,” said Jones. “We can move freight for one fourth to one sixth of the fuel consumed per ton-mile on our trucking friends. It’s the most environmentally friendly form of transportation there is.”