Escanaba and Lake Superior Railroad
HeadquartersWells, Michigan
LocaleMichigan, Wisconsin
Dates of operation1898–
Length347 miles (558 km)

The Escanaba and Lake Superior Railroad (reporting mark ELS) is a privately held shortline railroad that operates 347 miles (558 km) of track in Northeastern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.[1] Its main line runs 208 miles (335 km) from Rockland, Michigan, to Green Bay, Wisconsin, and it also owns various branch lines and out-of-service track.[1]



The railroad was founded as the Escanaba and Lake Superior Railway on November 17, 1898, by Isaac Stephenson, a local businessman, with seven miles (11 km) of track from Wells, Michigan, northwest.[2] Over the next several years it built track to Channing, Michigan, where it connected with the Milwaukee Road.[3] In 1900, the Milwaukee Road built a dock for iron ore transport near Escanaba, Michigan, and began using the ELS to access its new facility.[3] As part of the agreement that allowed the Milwaukee Road access to its line, the ELS was reincorporated as the Escanaba and Lake Superior Railroad on February 12, 1900; it has used this name ever since.[3] In 1902, the ELS built three miles (4.8 km) of track southeast out of Wells into the center of Escanaba.[3]

In 1935, the Milwaukee Road moved its ore trains off the ELS and entered into an agreement with the Chicago & North Western Railroad (CNW) to jointly operate ore trains into Escanaba.[3] Though the ELS petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and later the US Supreme Court to be allowed to join the joint operations, it was blocked from doing so in 1938 by the Supreme Court.[3]

In the 1940s, two major sources of traffic were developed near Escanaba—the Harnischfeger Corporation, which built large cranes, and the Escanaba Paper Company.[4] In the early 1960s, the ELS was purchased by the Hanna Mining Company.[4] In 1969, the ELS stopped serving the Escanaba Paper Company during a strike at the mill; in response, the mill's owners built a new connection to the CNW and Soo Line, and cut car movements on the ELS more than five-fold in two years, from 2,200 carloads in 1968 to 449 in 1970.[4]

The ELS continued skeleton service during the 1970s.[4] In 1978, Hanna requested permission from the ICC to abandon the railroad.[4]


On October 6, 1978, Hanna sold the railroad to John Larkin, a businessman from Minneapolis who had organized a passenger excursion on the railroad earlier in the decade.[5] He planned to return the railroad to profitability by reducing labor costs and entering the business of leasing boxcars to other railroads.[5] Shortly thereafter, the leasing market collapsed.[5] Additionally, with the Milwaukee Road going bankrupt in 1977, it planned to abandon its trackage in Michigan, consisting largely of a route between Ontonagon, Michigan, and Green Bay, Wisconsin.[6] This plan would break the ELS's connections at Channing, as well as end rail service to shippers on the line.[6] One of these shippers, Champion Paper, which operated a mill in Ontonagon, approached the ELS with a proposal for the railroad to buy the Milwaukee Road track to Ontonagon.[6]

Purchasing EX-Milwaukee Road Lines

After opposition from the CNW, which wanted to retain iron ore transport from a mine on the route, the Groveland Mine in Randville, and Hanna Mining (former owner of the ELS and owner of the mine in question, the Groveland Mine in Randville, Michigan), the ELS, backed by other on-line shippers and the states of Michigan and Wisconsin, reached an agreement with the Milwaukee Road's bankruptcy court to take control of the Ontonagon route, as well as additional trackage south.[6] On March 10, 1980, the ELS bought the ex-Milwaukee Road between Ontonagon through Channing south to Iron Mountain, Michigan.[7] It also obtained a lease-to-own agreement of the tracks south from Iron Mountain to Green Bay; this section was purchased in 1982.[7]

Upon purchase, the ELS immediately began rebuilding its new trackage, which had been neglected by the Milwaukee Road in the years leading up to its bankruptcy.[7] Major funding came from the state of Michigan, which paid $1.6 million (equivalent to $4.25 million in 2019[8]) to install new ties on the track to Ontonagon.[7]

The freight yard in Channing, Michigan, which was the junction for Milwaukee Road trains bound for Ontonagon. 2015
The freight yard in Channing, Michigan, which was the junction for Milwaukee Road trains bound for Ontonagon. 2015
These E&LS cars await servicing at the Wells, MI facility.
These E&LS cars await servicing at the Wells, MI facility.

In 1981, the ELS bought additional trackage, this time a branch line from Channing north to Republic, Michigan.[7] In 1985, it bought a branch from Crivitz, Wisconsin, on the Green Bay line, east to Marinette, Wisconsin, and Menominee, Michigan.[7] During 1987 and 1988, the line to Ontonagon had its lightweight rails replaced with new, heavier rails.[7] In 1991, it bought a line from Sidnaw, Michigan, on the Ontonagon line, east to Nestoria.[7] The following year, the line from Channing to Wells was taken out of service, with access to Escanaba retained via a new trackage rights agreement with the Wisconsin Central Railroad, under which the ELS was granted access the WC's line from Pembine, Wisconsin, to North Escanaba.[7]

In 1995, the railroad bought a short branch line between Stiles Junction, Wisconsin, just north of Green Bay, to Oconto Falls from the CNW.[9] In 2005, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation provided a $2.01 million (equivalent to $2.58 million in 2019[8]) grant to rebuild trackage from Crivitz north to the Michigan state line.[7] This was the last section of mainline track that had not seen a complete rebuild since it was bought in 1980.[6] The various branch lines are often used by the railroad to store rolling stock.[6]

Post-2009 and track closures

After the closure of the Smurfit-Stone Paper Mill in Ontonagon in 2009, the Escanaba and Lake Superior abandoned 15 miles (24 km) of track between Ontonagon and Rockland in 2011, severing the railroad's closest trackage to Lake Superior. The remaining track between Rockland and Mass City is used for third-party long term car storage. The trackage between Escanaba & Channing is now only used for long term car storage, and to occasionally move the E&LS Shippers Special Train between the engine shops at Wells, and the E&LS mainline. The line between Crivitz & Marinette is also used for car storage only. The railroad's northernmost customer ships logs from an open air transload in the yard near the junction of East Branch Road and Depot Road in Mass City.[10]

Rolling Stock

E&LS 401 sits at the E&LS car shops in Escanaba. As of 2021[update], it is a parts source.
E&LS 401 sits at the E&LS car shops in Escanaba. As of 2021, it is a parts source.
These ELS DS44-660s sit slowly rusting away to time. They have been stripped of all valuable parts.
These ELS DS44-660s sit slowly rusting away to time. They have been stripped of all valuable parts.

When it began operations, the ELS used steam locomotives purchased second hand from other railroads in the Midwest.[9] It bought a new Shay locomotive for logging service in 1904, followed by various locomotives from Baldwin.[11] Its first diesel locomotive, a Baldwin VO-1000, was purchased in 1946.[11] The railroad continued buying new and used Baldwins for the next several decades. Some notable mentions are the E&LS 300, the engine that can often be seen running the “Shippers Special” train. Other locomotives include the now decrepit RS-12s 207-217 series. 10 RS-12s have either been sold off or put in a deadline at the E&LS Wells Facility. Other engines are the E&LS Shark Nose Baldwin’s, originally from the Delaware & Hudson RR (D&H). Numbered 1225 & 1226, these engines have not seen the light of day since the late 1980s. They are presumed to be in a warehouse with security personnel after it was found that there were parts stolen, like the horn. Other notable mentions are the engines 100 & 101 the DS44-660s. The 101 can still be seen in Wells with its GN inspired paint scheme. The railroad also owns two Ex-Wisconsin & Calumet (WICT) F7As & F7Bs. There were several other engines, the 201, 202, & 204. These were the DS44-1000s.[11] In 1985, the first EMD diesel, a GP-38 (ELS 400) was purchased, followed shortly by additional GP-38s (Ex-Conrail ELS 401 & 402) and SD9s (1220-1224).[12]

In 2003, the railroad bought two SD-40-2s (Ex-Electro-Motive Diesel Leasing ELS 500 & 501), and, unusually, an FP7 (ELS 600) two years later. The FP7 was originally a Milwaukee Road FP7, then was bought by the Wisconsin Southern, and sold to the E&LS. The SD9s except for 1223 have been retired as of 2020. 1223 still operates in Wells and Escanaba, but it is has been restricted from mainline service ever since an inspection found that the prime mover was failing. The engine can regularly be seen switching out ELS customers in that area, and at the car maintenance facility in Escanaba, or at the ELS engine shop at Wells, moving the junk engines and cars. In early January of 2020, the railroad bought the ILSX 1344 and numbered it 502. The trucks from the since decommissioned SD-40-2, ELS 500, were replaced with the original worn-out trucks on E&LS 502. They were the original silver trucks from when the engine was a Union Pacific SD40-2. In May of 2020, the railroad bought a former GTW / BNSF Railway EMD SD-40 (Note the absence of the "Dash 2") and numbered it 503.[citation needed]

Motive Power

ELS 503 sits idle in Howard, Wisconsin
ELS 503 sits idle in Howard, Wisconsin

As of February 2021, the following locomotives are owned by the Escanaba and Lake Superior Railroad.

List of locomotives currently owned or leased by the Escanaba and Lake Superior Railroad
Locomotive Number Model Status Other
100 VO-1000 Out of service
101 DS-4-4-660 Out of service Painted in ELS scheme
102 DS-4-4-660 Out of service
102B F7B Out of service EX-WICT
106 F7A Out of service EX-WICT
207 RS-12 Out of service
208 RS-12 Out of service
209 RS-12 Out of service
210 RS-12 Out of service
211 RS-12 Out of service
212 RS-12 Out of service
213 RS-12 Out of service
214 RS-12 Out of service
215 RS-12 Out of service
216 RS-12 Out of service
217 RS-12 Out of service
300 RS-12 Occasionally Active Painted in ELS scheme, works the "Shipper's Special"
400 GP38 Active EX-Conrail, Painted in ELS scheme
401 GP38 Out of service EX-Conrail, Used as a parts source in Escanaba
402 GP38 Active EX-Conrail
1220 SD9 Out of service EX-RMSX
1221 SD9 Out of service EX-RMSX
1222 SD9 Out of service EX-RMSX
1223 SD9 Limited service EX-RMSX, Limited service due to failing prime mover
1224 SD9 Out of service EX-RMSX
600 FP7 Active EX-MILW / WSOR
901 F7A Out of service EX-WICT
950 F7B Out of service EX-WICT
711 RS-12 Out of service
201 DS44-1000 Out of service
202 DS44-1000 Out of service
204 DS44-1000 Out of service
500 SD40-2 Out of service EX-MILW / EMDX, Blown Traction Motor
501 SD40-2 Active EX-MILW / EMDX
502 SD40-2 Active EX-UP / ILSX, Trucks Swapped With 500
503 SD40 Active EX-GTW / BNSF / ILSX
1205 RF16A Shark Nose Stored In Escanaba EX-D&H Stored In Warehouse
1216 RF16A Shark Nose Stored In Escanaba EX-D&H Stored In Warehouse
112 Russel Snow Plow Active Built New For The ELS, Is Painted In Company Colors, Stored At Channing


Engine Shops-

Railroad Yards-

Engine Housing Facilities-

Wood Yards-

Interchanges & Trackage Rights

Interchanges- The E&LS interchanges with the Canadian National Railroad in several different locations. They are listed here-

Trackage Rights-

The E&LS has trackage rights to several parts of the Canadian National Railroad. They are listed here-

See also


  1. ^ a b Glischinski, Steve (2007). Regional Railroads of the Midwest. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-7603-2351-9.
  2. ^ Glischinski (2007), p. 36.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Glischinski (2007), p. 37.
  4. ^ a b c d e Glischinski (2007), p. 38.
  5. ^ a b c Glischinski (2007), p. 40.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Glischinski (2007), p. 41.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Glischinski (2007), p. 42.
  8. ^ a b Thomas, Ryland; Williamson, Samuel H. (2020). "What Was the U.S. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved September 22, 2020. United States Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the Measuring Worth series.
  9. ^ a b Glischinski (2007), p. 43.
  10. ^ Rail Series, Thornapple River. "TRRS 516: Escanaba & Lake Superior RR - Mass City to Sidnaw". YouTube. Alex Christmas. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  11. ^ a b c Glischinski (2007), p. 44.
  12. ^ Glischinski (2007), p. 45.

Further reading