The Friends of the Western Duluth Parks & Trails has authorized a study of the economic impact generated by the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad (LSMR) tourist attraction.

It is being conducted by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Labovitz School of Business and Economics.  A particular goal is to determine the impact on western Duluth neighborhoods, where income is lower than other parts of the city.

Results will come in advance of a decision regarding whether or not the railroad should continue to operate. Data will be gathered until the last ride of this seaso with results and the final report scheduled for release in December. 

“We intend to use the final report to aid the decision makers in assessing the viability of a train in the corridor and its value to the economic, social, historic, recreational, and accessibility criteria established by the city for the restoration and development of the St. Louis River Corridor and the extension of the Western Waterfront Rail and Trail master plan,”  Friends of Western Duluth Parks & Trails said in a prepared statement.

“This study will give us insight on how we are doing to provide our passengers the best possible experience on our trip along the St Louis River estuary and how we can improve it.  This will also assist us in developing ways that our train can complement future extensions to the Western Waterfront Trail,”  added Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad.

Goals of the study are to:

  • Collect advanced data necessary to craft evidence-based policy, 
  • Determine the value of the property that connects the western Duluth communities, 
  • Gain better understanding of rail and trail use to improve the visitor experience and increase tourism, 
  • Obtain data to assess near- and long-business plans of the railroad and for western businesses to do the same. 

As of Sept. 9, more than 400 survey responses had been received by the BBER. Each response represents a group/party that rode the LSMR train. 

  • Of those responses, approximately 75 percent were visiting from outside the city of Duluth, and 132 were staying multiple nights. 
  • Approximately 70 percent of the out-of-town visitor groups said the train was one of the reasons for their visit to Duluth 
  • More than 50 respondent groups said the train was the primary reason for their visit.
  • Approximately 20 percent of the out-of-town groups extended their stay because of the train. 
  • When asked about other viable types of activities along the estuary (hiking, biking, paddling), the majority of respondents said they would not likely participate in those activities citing they “prefer the scenery from the train” and are “not physically able to participate in other activities” as the most common reasons.