2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

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TheUrbanGopher
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2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby TheUrbanGopher » December 3rd, 2014, 9:34 am

MnDOT is currently working on the Statewide Rail Plan for 2015, and it should be complete in February. This plan is being completed in compliance with FRA guidelines and is an update to the 2010 plan. Most of the passenger rail corridors studied in 2010 are obviously still moving forward, but big changes are afloat for freight upgrades due to the boom in Baaken oil shipments.

More comments to expand passenger rail service statewide would probably be helpful, but route-specific comments will likely help set up a priority for development.

Another round of open houses is slated for January, but you can leave general comments here for now:
http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/rai ... reach.html

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby mattaudio » December 3rd, 2014, 10:49 am

Anyone have experience on the dynamic between the private railroad's internal capital improvement plans, alongside the DOT's plans? Is there significant overlap? Are the DOT plans more about the dynamics and efficiencies between railroads, to advocate for shippers, in addition to potential passenger rail plans?

Hoffman Jct is clearly a choke point for all the Class Is in town, and I know I've previously suggested the state consider a UP connection on the old RR ROW from Lilydale through the West Side Flats. This would connect the UP Mankato Sub and the UP Spine Line (Albert Lea Sub) without having to cross the Mississippi River twice. It would also allow UP Mankato Sub traffic to connect to the Pigs Eye yard, or continuation of traffic to/from the Altoona Sub, without passing St. Paul Union Depot. It would also relieve pressure on the Omaha Road bridge, the CGW lift bridge at Robert St, and the Hoffman bridge near Pigs Eye. This would allow some of that bridge capacity to shift for future passenger rail service.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby mattaudio » January 2nd, 2015, 12:33 pm

It's not part of the state rail plan, but related... News reports say the crude oil rail risk report mandated by last year's legislature is complete. The focus is on a $25m plan for grade separation at Como Ave. But I'd like to read the whole report if anyone can find the PDF.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby mamundsen » January 2nd, 2015, 12:50 pm

I saw a report on the news last night about that. $25m just for the 1 crossing at Como Ave?!? Wow. That's very close to my house, and I think that is crazy. You can avoid the crossing (if driving) fairly easily.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby mattaudio » January 2nd, 2015, 12:52 pm

I think the justification is to prevent the possibility of a grade crossing collision and the potential derailment/explosion it could cause. It seems like it would be smarter to give the railroad a choice, cross busy grade crossings at a low speed (where derailment/explosion would be significantly less likely), or carry less/no volatile cargo, or pay for the grade crossing.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby acs » January 2nd, 2015, 1:07 pm

http://www.startribune.com/local/287229711.html

According to the Strib, its $280 million to "upgrade" all railroad crossings that are used by oil trains. Not sure if this means full grade separation of each and every one or what else, but the como ave crossing would have to be a large grade separation. The responsibility would fall on the state because the rails predate the roads that cross them and because of federal law. Of note, most of the crossings are just over the ND border in Moorehead, in St. Paul, and Red Wing. Also, this is just the routes that oil trains use.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby MNdible » January 2nd, 2015, 1:49 pm

My read of the article was that most of the improvements would not include grade separation -- mostly just improved signalization, crossing arms, etc. Only a small handful of them would recommend full grade separation.

As for this location, while it might be disruptive to the immediate properties, it seems that having a grade separation makes sense due to the regional nature of this street and the increase in train traffic that we're experiencing.

Regarding exploding oil trains, I've read elsewhere that NoDak is taking steps to decrease the volatility of its oil by doing some pre-refining before putting it on trains.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby woofner » January 2nd, 2015, 3:47 pm

The study is on the left sidebar of this page:

http://www.dot.state.mn.us/aboutrail/

I haven't read the study either, but it looks like it applies to:
• BNSF mainline from the Twin Cities to Fargo/Moorhead via St Cloud, Staples and Detroit Lakes
• Canadian Pacific’s mainline from La Crescent to the Twin Cities and then to North Dakota via Glenwood
• BNSF corridor from Fargo/Moorhead to Willmar to the South Dakota border via Marshal and Pipestone
It's apparently about 700 miles of some of the busiest track in the state. Without commenting on the specifics of the Como grade separation, $280m would seem to be a bargain and a no-brainer to improve safety on these tracks. While it would be great to get something back from the railroad for it (like some cheap or free passenger rail rights), I don't see why the legislature wouldn't agree to fund these improvements over some length of time; it seems like a basic public safety infrastructure improvement to me.
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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby Silophant » January 2nd, 2015, 4:24 pm

Something that helps giant corporations and actual constituents both does sound like something the legislature should be able to agree on.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby mamundsen » January 2nd, 2015, 6:39 pm

MNdible wrote:My read of the article was that most of the improvements would not include grade separation -- mostly just improved signalization, crossing arms, etc. Only a small handful of them would recommend full grade separation.

As for this location, while it might be disruptive to the immediate properties, it seems that having a grade separation makes sense due to the regional nature of this street and the increase in train traffic that we're experiencing.

Regarding exploding oil trains, I've read elsewhere that NoDak is taking steps to decrease the volatility of its oil by doing some pre-refining before putting it on trains.
This really is not a regional road (at this point). Most thru traffic going north or south is on Dale, east and west is in Maryland and Front (which are all grade separated). This really is just a neighborhood road that completes the grid. In my opinion we no not need a $25million grade separation project.

And Mark my words... There will be conflicts about how it will effect the lake if this turns out to be a BIG project.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby mulad » January 5th, 2015, 3:06 pm

Hmm. The study itself didn't put an actual dollar figure on the Como Ave crossing. I may as well quote the whole section, as it isn't very long (emphasis mine):
The at-grade crossing on the most densely populated segment of the entire oil train route is along Como Avenue in St. Paul. The Como Avenue at-grade crossing is one of two at-grade crossings between University Junction in Minneapolis and Hoffman Junction in St. Paul, which are about 12 miles apart. The Como Avenue crossing has a highly effective safety treatment, four quad gates, but in order to make improvements to the safety of this crossing, a grade separation is the most likely alternative.

The Como Avenue crossing experiences 55 to 70 trains per day, has high bus traffic, and has the highest residential population estimate of all the areas studied. The risks to people living near the crossing are high although there are other grade separations in the area that do allow emergency responder’s access on either side of the tracks. A grade separation would reduce the risk to people living near the area by removing the need for vehicles and trains to interact.

The estimated cost of a grade separation for Como Avenue has yet to be determined. Constructing the Como Avenue grade separation poses unique challenges. The estimated costs and probable disruptions to vehicle and rail traffic make this project problematic because of its location within such a heavily populated area and along one of the busiest rail corridors. An overhead view (Figure 2) and the risk assessment mapping for the Como Avenue crossing show some of the factors and influences considered when making the recommendation about this crossing (Figure 3).
The first map they included in the study (Figure 2) wasn't entirely correct, since it still shows Como Place going through the site, even though that's been cut off for quite a while now (about a decade? Maybe closer to 5 years ago -- I don't quite remember). Figure 3 in the document is probably showing it accurately, but it's a bit hard to tell (that one strangely includes a prison just south of the crossing, though I doubt that's anything beyond a halfway house or something like that).

Any building within 75 feet of the railroad centerline (making for a 150' RR ROW) is probably toast, though there are only three buildings on two properties really inside that zone (one is a house, the other two are garage buildings). A few others are right at 75 feet or within 85, though. The volume of train traffic through here would make things complicated, though -- they'd probably need to build a shoo-fly track like the current temporary berm put in across Central Ave in Minneapolis. There's probably barely enough room just north of the existing tracks to do that without blowing away any real buildings (though the property at 831 Como Ave -- the old site of Black Bear Crossings before it moved to the Como Lake Pavilion -- might lose its patio).

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby talindsay » January 13th, 2015, 11:37 am

So, it looks to me like if the Keystone XL pipeline were built it would dramatically reduce the oil trains in the metro, and hence dramatically reduce the risk of major environmental disaster. I understand there's some concern about some sensitive environment in Nebraska with the pipeline, but it seems like maybe that risk is both lower, and of lower cost, than the tremendous risk of derailment in MN and the mitigation costs associated. I know Keystone XL has become a political hot potato, but frankly the oil is going to be transported one way or the other, and it seems like the other (the pipeline) is dramatically better for Minnesota and a net positive. Perhaps instead of spending all this public money on BNSF we should just lobby for the train shipments to dramatically reduce and the pipeline to be built.

And of course, it my assumptions are correct and the pipeline is built anyway, these investments would be essentially wasted; though I suppose some of them would be beneficial to other users of the rail.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby MNdible » January 13th, 2015, 11:43 am

talindsay wrote:And of course, it my assumptions are correct and the pipeline is built anyway, these investments would be essentially wasted; though I suppose some of them would be beneficial to other users of the rail.
Yes, I'd say that every single thing that's proposed would be beneficial to the broader transportation system, increasing both capacity and safety. If we have to use a little oil explosion fear-mongering to get it, so be it.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby mattaudio » January 13th, 2015, 11:44 am

I'd say more rail capacity and grade crossing improvements is a net gain for our state, especially future passenger rail, even if/when oil unit trains decrease in volume.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby EOst » January 13th, 2015, 11:46 am

talindsay wrote:frankly the oil is going to be transported one way or the other
Not necessarily. Blocking the pipeline makes it more expensive, and therefore less economically feasible.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby mulad » January 13th, 2015, 11:49 am

Blocking the pipeline makes the risks involved in continuing to burn fossil fuels more tangible.

(However, we're still seeing pipeline expansion -- the Enbridge pipeline system is having a new pipe added along the existing corridor. That's partly claimed to be happening in order to decommission old portions of it, but I've been a little dubious of that justification.)

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby Tcmetro » February 16th, 2015, 3:17 pm

I don't think this was posted, but the Draft 2015 State Rail Plan has been posted.

http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/rai ... ilPlan.pdf
http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/rai ... urces.html

Haven't had a chance to look through it yet.

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby kellonathan » February 16th, 2015, 6:32 pm

Did you guys all notice the Twin Cities - Northfield - Des Moines line being recognized as a phase 1 project?
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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby Ottergoose » February 16th, 2015, 11:21 pm

kellonathan wrote:Did you guys all notice the Twin Cities - Northfield - Des Moines line being recognized as a phase 1 project?
Routing from Minneapolis to Northfield via Lakeville (as proposed here) seems unlikely from my relatively-uninformed perspective...

The portion of the MN&S Spur (Golden Valley to West Bloomington), while used for freight, isn't robust enough to handle six-axle locomotives, surely 79 MPH passenger moves would be impossible without significant investment.

The line crosses the Minnesota River at Savage... via a swing bridge that's owned by the Twin Cities & Western that hasn't seen a train in several years, and, one can assume, would need quite a bit of work to get in operating condition again.

Then, between the Minnesota River and Lakeville, the track's still there, but, it hasn't seen a train in decades... it would require a ton of work to rehab that line (not included in the budget), and even then, from what I've heard, it's not engineered particularly well by modern standards.

The portion between Lakeville and Northfield is in better shape (it's used by Progressive Rail daily), but, it's still a long way from having 79 MPH passenger operations.

Meanwhile, there's an existing route to St. Paul, via Union Pacific, which goes to a brand new passenger terminal and has track already in place that can handle passenger trains at 50-60 MPH. Given that this is regional inter-city, and not commuter, why on earth would you not got to SPUD first?

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Re: 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan

Postby mattaudio » February 17th, 2015, 8:52 am

^This. I think I've said as much in the Dan Patch / Northfield Rail thread, possibly the ZipRail thread as well. If we see passenger rail to Northfield, it will (and should) connect via SPUD and the Union Pacific Spine Line.

If there's any deviation from that line, it should be sharing ZipRail tracks to Hampton or Randolph (depending on ZipRail alignment) and then a hop on ye old Chicago Great Western trackage over to Northfield.


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