Northern Lights Express

Roads - Rails - Sidewalks - Bikeways
DanPatchToget
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby DanPatchToget » December 5th, 2017, 12:30 pm

Care to explain why? Just because the roads aren't congested doesn't mean people don't want alternatives.

tmart
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby tmart » December 5th, 2017, 1:00 pm

I think it's probably accurate that NLX is the only rail line in NE MN that makes sense, but I don't think it's a question of congestion. The key factor IMO would not be about the usefulness of, say, a Virginia-Duluth connection on its own, but how much more useful the NLX becomes by adding these connections--what options does it open up for tourists from the Cities? How many more Arrowheaders can benefit from better access to the Cities and the economic hub there? We'd probably need to see substantial improvements to both of those factors before the cost would be justifiable.

Of course, all this assumes that we continue incentivizing and subsidizing auto travel at the current rates. With a serious carbon tax, or less money available for building and maintaining rural highways, these calculations would change substantially.

MNdible
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby MNdible » December 5th, 2017, 1:23 pm

The per passenger subsidy for any such operation would be truly mind-blowing. It would make Northstar look like a profitable undertaking.

And carbon? The carbon costs of using a diesel train set to tug around a couple of mostly empty train cars is way worse than those same few people driving alone in cars.

DanPatchToget
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby DanPatchToget » December 5th, 2017, 1:44 pm

I do agree with tmart's point that if the current incentivizing of auto travel stays then it'll be difficult to expand transit in NE Minnesota. With that we kind of have to wait and see in terms of autonomous cars, alternative fuel sources, and how we get tax revenues for maintaining roads.

MNdible, doesn't have to be a diesel locomotive pulling a coach or two. DMUs, or better yet multiple-units using alternative sources of fuel such as bio-diesel or hydrogen fuel cells, should be looked at.

tmart
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby tmart » December 5th, 2017, 3:38 pm

My note about a carbon tax was not meant to be a statement about whether a train would represent a substantial improvement in CO2 output; truthfully I have no idea how all the emissions shake out. I was just trying to give an example of a hypothetical scenario that could broadly shift demand from auto to other modes in the not-too-distant future.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby xandrex » December 5th, 2017, 4:16 pm

As a Duluth native, I've gotta agree with MNdible here. First of all, sorry, nobody wants to go to Virginia. It's...not that nice of a town. So the only market this would target are locals from Northern Minnesota who don't have cars that want to get to Duluth or Minneapolis. That market is very small. And as luck would have it, Virginians have a way to get to either of those cities that doesn't require massive capital investment (and the fares are only $5 to Duluth or $66 to Minneapolis)!

RailBaronYarr
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby RailBaronYarr » December 5th, 2017, 4:40 pm

I mean, not to get all nitpicky (since I know the thing I'm about to talk about also serves trucks), but the state did just spend over $150 million relocating a highway to a new big bridge that makes driving from Virginia to Duluth much easier than having just closed the road entirely.

Obviously any fantasy mapping of regional rail lines that aren't connecting to/through one of the core cities in Minnesota is a total pipe dream, even by "any regional rail in Minnesota is a pipe dream" standards. It *is* crazy to think about how towns in other countries not that different from a Virginia-Eveleth conglomerate have hourly intercity rail service. I traveled around SE Minnesota a couple months ago with some state agencies/commissioners and companies/civic leaders couldn't stop talking about how people can't afford to live in their cities even with $12/hr wages (which seemed to be *stated* a universal ceiling for entry-level jobs at many companies, fwiw). A big part of that is housing (which, allow some duplexes ffs), and a slightly less big part is that every family needs a car per person. Again, a lot of that is local travel barriers (no transit, unsafe streets for biking, factories on the edge of town), but rail connections to these towns would make a difference for many people by letting them ditch dependence on a car.

But, I'm probably on Team It's Not Fiscally Responsible Compared To Coordinating And Subsidizing Better Bus Service Linking These Towns To A Regional Rail Hub That Still Has A Snowball's Chance In Hell Of Getting Funded. So.

tmart
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby tmart » December 5th, 2017, 4:58 pm

That's pretty consistent with my views as well, though I think NLX has more than a snowball's chance. Absent a significant shift in transportation priorities and values, what we'll probably see is lots of folks driving to Duluth from the Range, parking at the train station, and riding the rest of the way. Greyhound would probably reschedule the aforementioned $5 rides to provide timed transfers. And all things considered, this is still a huge improvement over the status quo.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby MNdible » December 5th, 2017, 5:27 pm

RailBaronYarr wrote:
December 5th, 2017, 4:40 pm
I mean, not to get all nitpicky (since I know the thing I'm about to talk about also serves trucks), but the state did just spend over $150 million relocating a highway to a new big bridge that makes driving from Virginia to Duluth much easier than having just closed the road entirely.
If we're getting nitpicky, then clearly the absurd thing was the failure to use just a tiny sliver of the $150 million to buy back the mineral rights under the existing road location. But, you know, politics.

DanPatchToget
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby DanPatchToget » December 6th, 2017, 9:18 am

Its great that there are regional and intercity buses, but its still a bus. And the routes only run once per day, maybe twice per day. Rail bias is real. I'm fine taking a bus, but if there's also a rail option usually I'll take the train. The average American won't even consider the bus. Would people rather take a bus that runs once per day, or a train that runs multiple times per day? Even if the bus ran multiple times per day people would still be choosing the train. And how dependable are these bus routes, especially in the winter? During the recent snow/ice storm Jefferson Lines was canceling buses, meanwhile the Northstar was running on schedule (except one train that hit a car at a crossing). For a city pair like Duluth-Thunder Bay of course it makes sense to have bus service because there is no existing railroad right-of-way between the two cities, but the other routes already have railroad right-of-way used by heavy freight trains which means the tracks should already be in good condition.

Multiple times I've heard people say that NLX won't be much help for going beyond Duluth, which is true. And while a regional rail and bus system won't be used by people who want to bring their boat or RV, it can be used by travelers who want to go deeper into NE Minnesota, college students, and locals so their towns aren't abandoned.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby twincitizen » December 6th, 2017, 6:16 pm

Could we, as a group, maybe, just maybe, refrain from posting about fantasy extensions to routes that haven't yet been built, or even funded? It's fine to have those thoughts in your head (and maybe even whip up a map for your own personal enjoyment), but I am really not sold on the value of broadcasting such unrealistic ideas publicly. Sometimes the fantasy extensions proposed here are so absurdly detached from reality they almost make me question the value of the original project out of spite.

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Anondson
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby Anondson » December 6th, 2017, 7:12 pm

We got the fantasy maps thread, could move it there.

tmart
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby tmart » December 6th, 2017, 7:25 pm

Hey, sorry, I didn't mean to kick off a fantasy maps thing--one poster asked if an extension beyond Duluth made sense, and I wondered if treating it as a rail hub would make more sense than just extending the line. The consensus seems to be that, given current conditions and mode preferences, neither of those makes much sense because the population just isn't there to support it and the advantages over driving to Duluth and taking the train the rest of the way are relatively small.

DanPatchToget
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby DanPatchToget » December 6th, 2017, 11:14 pm

What some people consider fantasy is reality in other places. What I'm proposing may look unrealistic to the average American, but I'm sure the average European or Asian would think it makes complete sense. I think its good to discuss how NLX can be more attractive on the northern end with transit connections. You don't just open one rail or bus line and expect lots of people to use it, you need to have a network so there are connection opportunities (I know I'm stating the obvious, but I need to point that out). On the southern end of NLX there are plenty of connection opportunities, but on the northern end going outside of Duluth very little. I'm not proposing 24/7 high frequency, high speed service to every parcel of land on the Iron Range, just single digit number of self-propelled railcars serving towns with existing rail lines so people have access to Duluth, and with NLX to the Twin Cities, without needing a car.

gopherfan
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby gopherfan » December 7th, 2017, 12:24 am

twincitizen wrote:
December 6th, 2017, 6:16 pm
Could we, as a group, maybe, just maybe, refrain from posting about fantasy extensions to routes that haven't yet been built, or even funded? It's fine to have those thoughts in your head (and maybe even whip up a map for your own personal enjoyment), but I am really not sold on the value of broadcasting such unrealistic ideas publicly. Sometimes the fantasy extensions proposed here are so absurdly detached from reality they almost make me question the value of the original project out of spite.
I disagree, I know for a fact that Met Council officials keep an eye on these threads, I hear we're called the 'streetsmn wolves'. That said, if a project is unbuilt, it is EXACTLY the right time to discuss options and push for the best solution. Extensions or changes to existing plans also make sense given that a lot of the proposals are 10+ years in the making... I remind you that the iPhone came out 10 years ago... A LOT has changed. Once it's built, that's it. There's a lot of value to discussion on these forums for how a project might be better or more useful, simply posting news updates after the fact is generally pointless as decisions have been made and the public no longer has a say...

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VacantLuxuries
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby VacantLuxuries » December 7th, 2017, 8:35 am

What I'm proposing may look unrealistic to the average American, but I'm sure the average European or Asian would think it makes complete sense.
But the line would supposedly serve average Americans, so if they don't see the point it's hard to imagine it working to any degree.

DanPatchToget
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby DanPatchToget » December 7th, 2017, 9:20 am

VacantLuxuries wrote:
December 7th, 2017, 8:35 am
What I'm proposing may look unrealistic to the average American, but I'm sure the average European or Asian would think it makes complete sense.
But the line would supposedly serve average Americans, so if they don't see the point it's hard to imagine it working to any degree.
Well hopefully they'll see the benefits of a train and realize owning a car isn't all that great (especially in the winter). Considering the majority of trips on the Iron Range are by car, it would be nice if there was an alternative for at least one of those trips.

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VacantLuxuries
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby VacantLuxuries » December 7th, 2017, 10:39 am

Well hopefully they'll see the benefits of a train and realize owning a car isn't all that great (especially in the winter).
I'm just not that optimistic about the Iron Range accepting European style rail service. Or European style anything.

DanPatchToget
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby DanPatchToget » December 7th, 2017, 11:54 am

Isn't the Iron Range pretty liberal? Granted that's on the American political spectrum, whereas if you put it on the Norwegian political spectrum they would be moderate if not slightly to the right.

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VacantLuxuries
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby VacantLuxuries » December 7th, 2017, 3:54 pm

No. They're a largely conservative area that has voted blue because the DFL has historically stood up for labor protections and helped protect mining in the state, and their congressional district contains a city with two major college campuses.


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