East Metro Rail Capacity Study

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East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby mulad » July 17th, 2012, 4:46 pm

I was surprised to see a notice for a new open house for the East Metro Rail Capacity Study pop up for Thursday next week. I haven't heard of any activity on that for about two years, so it's good to see that they're at least talking about it again. Hopefully they'll actually publish something online this time, since I only got fragmentary second-hand information from the last open house they did.
WHAT: Open House
WHEN: Thursday, July 26, 2012, 6-8 p.m. (presentation at 6:30 p.m.)
WHERE: Union Depot, Suite 150, 214 4th Street E., St. Paul, MN 55101
The study is looking at what sort of improvements will be needed in the future if/when large numbers of commuter and intercity trains start accessing the Union Depot along both sides of the Mississippi.

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby mulad » July 25th, 2012, 4:00 pm

This will be tomorrow evening.

The RCRRA folks uploaded a draft report to Dropbox:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/y4nzcb7zzj0hd ... Report.pdf

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby mattaudio » July 26th, 2012, 8:02 am

Is there any way to upload the file to the forum here for those of us who can't access dropbox?

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby mulad » July 28th, 2012, 11:41 am

Corporate firewall in the way? Did you get a copy away from work?

Anyway, I went to the open house on Thursday. It was a lot of stuff to take in, so I'm not quite sure what to think of it all. They at least claim to be following a model similar to the "organization before electronics before concrete" model, though the study consultants believe that the railroads are currently working with near-optimal operational methods and they kind of copped out on the electronics side because of the nationwide push for Positive Train Control signaling upgrades has clouded things significantly.

So, the report focuses on changing the physical infrastructure. They claim to be looking at inexpensive stuff first, though a ton of the work they're talking about involves changing out switches, which I always had been told were fairly spendy. Anyway, they've been looking at changing to #20 turnouts in many or most cases, which should allow for switching tracks at up to 40 mph, a big jump from the current 10 mph in many places in the area.

The most visible piece of the whole plan is a potential flyover bridge for passenger trains to reach the Union Depot. It would skip over the track on the west leg of the wye and two out of 4 planned tracks on the east leg. The bridge would have a 2.5% actual grade (compensating for curvature, the railroads consider it 2.76%). That's too steep for a typical freight train, but Amtrak should be able to take it at 30 mph.

They had considered putting a tunnel under the wye (or at least a cut with some bridges for the other tracks), but that took the tracks below the water table, below the 100-year floodplain, and interfered with utilities in the area (including an undergrounded stream, probably coming from Swede Hollow). But even the flyover had to be built to not interfere with the glide path into Holman Field. Like the Hiawatha Line's flyover of Highway 55 affects the Sabo Bridge in Minneapolis, the location of this flyover will also impact the placement of the planned Bruce Vento Trail Bridge in the bluff area.

Anyway, the passenger flyover will lead to its own (mostly) dedicated track, planned to be available to the freights in the off hours of passenger service. There isn't enough room for that track right now, so several tracks of BNSF's Dayton's Bluff Yard will have to be shifted northward a bit.

These plans also impact the design of replacement bridges along Warner Road -- apparently they're going to be built with narrower steel piers rather than concrete ones which could have limited the space available for tracks.

Throughout the area, there are plans for new and extended sidings, even across the river where Union Pacific operates. It turns out that UP uses both of their bridges in the area quite a bit -- the Robert Street Bridge, plus another one down by the metropolitan sewage treatment plant. In some cases, they effectively get used as two main tracks on one logical line. One oddity of their operation is that they have a yard on the east side of the river pretty close to the Canadian Pacific St. Paul Yard, but in order to transfer trains between the two, they tend to loop around through both bridges -- something that can take an hour and block a lot of other traffic in the process. One of the simpler ideas in the whole project is to add a short curved section of track linking the two yards so that traffic can avoid taking that circuitous route.

Down in Newport and again just north of Hastings, the BNSF and Canadian Pacific rights-of-way cross over each other twice. The two railroads generally share those tracks since it's usually better for each of them. The ultimate stage of the plan would get rid of BNSF's track along the river and build a new one on the northeast side of CP's rails next to Highway 61, unweaving the whole mess.

Down near Hastings, another passenger flyover is planned, in addition to a new lift bridge parallel to the existing one over the Mississippi to get into Hastings itself. I'm not quite sure what the triggering event would be for the flyover, but it sounds like the new lift bridge would be needed even at fairly low passenger rail volumes.

Track curvature and placement would be altered all along the way between St. Paul and Hastings by this plan. A few spots will need rock blasted to open up room for 1 or 2 additional tracks, but it doesn't sound like there will be much need for property takings. Some slivers of land here and there, but they didn't say if any buildings would be impacted (I'm guessing some will, but probably not all that many).

The study used year 2006 traffic data, since that was a peak year and we had an economic downturn after that. Anecdotally, I think traffic this year is roughly on par with that. The whole study area sees 150 trains a day currently (er, 2006-ly), and about 107 of those go through the Hoffman Interlocking between the wye by the Union Depot and the yard areas east of there. Their presentation said that about 10,000 freight cars get moved in or through the area each day. They're planning for an increase in traffic of about 36%, including 22 new daily passenger trains (11 round-trips -- 6x from 110-mph service to Chicago and 5x from Red Rock commuter rail).

Personally, I feel they should have been planning for at least double that amount of passenger traffic, but government agencies never have the same ambitions that I do. Fortunately, the east side of the river isn't the only way of getting out of town -- if we ever get real high-speed rail from St. Paul, it'd probably either go down the Robert Street Bridge route toward Rochester, or up the wye and then eastward through Eau Claire. So hopefully their planned number of trains per day is at least in the ballpark.

They put up a price tag of $827 million for everything they outlined, though it can be broken up into a lot of smaller pieces if need be. Many improvements should be made regardless of passenger service involvement, so I'd really expect a massive chunk of that to be spent by the railroads themselves. The Union Depot flyover was separated out as costing $61 million, but they didn't get really detailed about many other things. Those estimates could be significantly low or high too.

Anyway, enough of that...

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby Andrew_F » July 28th, 2012, 11:49 am

There's two major former surface streams that pass under that area-- Trout Brook, which drains Lake Como and McCarron's Lake, and Phalen Creek which drains the Phalen chain of lakes. It's actually those two streams that built that area. The large flat area down there was originally a big swampy delta where the two streams met the river before the railroads but the streams in canals (and eventually decked them over) and backfilled the delta to make their yards. All the trenches in the area that allowed the railroads to get up the bluffs were carved by these two streams-- Swede Hollow, Phalen Blvd, where 35e is today, Westminster Junction, the Soo tracks north of Maryland. Following the creekbeds was the cheapest way to make on up the bluff. Eventually the railroads buried the entirety of the streams to allow them to grade across the whole creekbed and prevent tracks being washed out during flooding.

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby mulad » July 28th, 2012, 12:25 pm

Thanks for the info. I knew that the whole area used to be streambeds, but I've never really known the details.

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby MNdible » July 28th, 2012, 1:49 pm

Many thanks for the detailed report!

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby mattaudio » July 29th, 2012, 11:37 am

I wonder if there's any way to rebuild the rail line on the south side of the river near Water Street... http://goo.gl/maps/ldo1r The biggest problem here would be all the redevelopment near Plato Blvd, and I'm not even sure what the original alignment was immediately across from downtown.

The main benefit of this for UP is that it would connect the Mankato Sub (including the Shakopee yard) to the Albert Lea Sub without having to cross the river twice or interlock with other roads.

I'm trying to determine why this wasn't preserved in the first place. I think this abandoned section was connected through Mendota to what is now the PGR Eagandale spur then south through Rosemount. It looks like south of Rosemount, the UP Albert Lea sub was the Rock Island spine line, whereas the CGW main was abandoned south of Pine Bend. The CGW built the Robert Street lift bridge, Rock Island built the swing bridge (now pier) at Newport, and looks like Milwaukee Road built the Hoffman Ave UP Swing Bridge. I get the feeling it is just the timeline of mergers that took place which resulted in this unfortunate loss of a short connection which could reduce traffic on the three UP bridges in St. Paul, since the CGW went into the C&NW in 1968, but IIRC the UP picked up the Spine Line in Rock Island bankruptcy quite a while before they bought the C&NW in the mid-90s.

Oh and it's nice to see that MnDOT and Ramsey County still use cascade green instead of orange to show BNSF on maps. 8-)

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby mulad » July 29th, 2012, 2:42 pm

Other than a lot of bitching and moaning by business/property owners, I don't see much obstacle to building or rebuilding something in that West Side Flats area. There's a lot of room with all of those parking lots and low-slung buildings -- Even if you couldn't weave something between buildings, it seems likely that they'd only need to be modified rather than torn down to make room, and there's plenty of other space to rebuild nearby if they did.

Looking at some old aerial shots, it seems like the tracks running along Water Street upriver from downtown must have been a spur line -- I don't see them connecting to anything near Robert Street or that swing bridge farther downriver. And if there were any connections, it seems that they would have focused traffic from those bridges into running southeast rather than upriver to the southwest.

Regardless, I suppose flooding was one excuse for getting rid of the tracks. I can't quite tell, but they may have been where the levee is now along the edge of Harriet Island Park, or they might have been just inside the barrier.

In the Mendota Heights area, the abandoned section which is now the Big Rivers State Trail and a bit south really should be preserved, since it's one of the few ways to get close to the airport -- if a rail station can never be built at the airport itself, it would at least be within easy shuttling distance.

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby mattaudio » July 31st, 2012, 9:34 am


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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby mulad » August 7th, 2012, 6:24 pm

Yeah, that seems promising. It looks like a grade-separation would be needed at Wabasha Street, and maybe Ohio Street. I'd also be concerned about vibration damaging the Wabasha Street Caves, but I don't know if that's an actual problem or not.

Beyond that, there may be some flooding issues along the route, though clearly the tracks had been raised up a bit at the site where you showed that old trestle.

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby Andrew_F » August 9th, 2012, 10:41 pm

Probably not an issue. There are plenty of similar mushroom/brewery caves/silica mines in the Twin Cities that pass beneath freight tracks and haven't had any problems. The Wabasha Street caves will be around for 500+ years regardless of anything short of a major earthquake.

Not that Saint Paul gives a crap about its historic "caves" to begin with...

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby mulad » October 9th, 2013, 3:01 pm

From the Saint Paul Union Depot thread:
at40man wrote: http://www.twincities.com/politics/ci_2 ... -6-million

Buried in this article, but worth noting...
They also include $10 million for an engineering study to alleviate bottlenecks in the east metro's freight railway network, mostly in St. Paul's Hoffman Yard, and to improve rail access between Hastings and the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul.

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby mattaudio » January 15th, 2016, 11:09 am

From the Gvoernor's bonding proposal, $1m for Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority Union Pacific/BNSF Grade Separation.

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Re: East Metro Rail Capacity Study

Postby HiawathaGuy » January 15th, 2016, 2:53 pm

acs wrote:Didn't see that, thanks. Still, if you dig deeper you'll find that it's not going to be the governor's office that will be pushing hard for metro transit this session. Remember who called the "timeout" on SWLRT a few years back?
I think Dayton is rightfully wanting an honest transportation funding package from the Legislature. I don't think he's necessarily anti-light rail. As for him doing that "timeout" on SWLRT - it was a head-scratcher, that's for sure. I really like Governor Dayton, but I certainly think he tends to be a little too knee-jerk in some of his reactions (closing his office while a US Senator...). But to say he's anti-transit isn't true. He may not be as progressive as some of us would like on that front, but he's no TPaw. I think the "timeout" was more out of potential political fallout and major democratic donors pressuring him. Thankfully, IMO, it would seem that a greater-good scenario will prevail.


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