The North Shore Scenic Railroad operates excursions along the historic Lakefront Line, a 26-mile section of rail between Duluth and Two Harbors. This rail corridor served a vital link in the transportation system for over 100 years. Known originally as the Lake Division, it connected the isolated Duluth and Iron Range Railway with America's expanding rail network. In 1886, when the Lakefront Line was first built, it was joined by a one-mile extension of the St. Paul and Duluth Railway at Fifth Avenue East in Duluth, providing the D&IR with access to downtown Duluth as well as to other railroad carriers at the Head of the Lakes.
As the iron ore industry developed in Minnesota, this new connection provided an all-rail route for the timely delivery of supplies, materials, and personnel to the rapidly growing settlements of the Vermilion Range. It also played a critical role in the development of the Mesabi Range. Before the Lake Division was constructed, prospectors, explorers, and entrepreneurs interested in the exciting prospects of the Mesabi Range had to travel over long and dangerous routes, either by canoe on the St. Louis-Embarrass River chain or on foot or horseback over the Vermilion Trail. From 1886 until 1892, when construction of the Duluth, Mesabi and Northern Railway was finally completed, all transportation moved over the Duluth and Iron Range Railway and its Lake Division to the boom town, Mesabi, where travelers and their supplies were transferred to horse and wagon for a bumpy journey over the Mesabi Trail to the far reaches of the Mesabi Range.
Over the years the Lake Division became known as the Lakefront Line. During its long history, a general merchandise train, the Ely Local, transported freight from Endion Yard to Two Harbors and to communities on the Vermilion Range. Cars destined for Mesabi Range cities were set out at Two Harbors to be carried to their destinations by the Virginia Local. During the heyday of logging, thousands of trains carried pine logs to the sawmills in Duluth. One of the principal log suppliers was the Duluth and Northern Minnesota Railroad, which interchanged trains with the D&IR Railway on the Lakefront Line at Knife River. Pulpwood shipments continued over the line until the late 1970s, when highly-competitive over-the-road trucks became the chosen mode of transportation.