Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Roads - Rails - Sidewalks - Bikeways
mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2722
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby mulad » September 16th, 2015, 9:30 am

Here's a thread for regional rail service between Eau Claire and the Twin Cities, which is a Tier 1 corridor in the Minnesota State Rail Plan, theoretically implemented within the next 15 years (by 2030). Note that this is different from the Gateway Corridor/Gold Line, which has discarded the idea of "commuter rail" to Eau Claire at this point. The current penciled-in idea is to have four round-trips daily, which is something that can probably be done with a single set of train equipment shuttling back and forth.

I'm not sure what the official status is within MnDOT at this point, and I bet WisDOT is keeping it at arm's length, but there are at least a couple rail advocacy groups that have formed in the region to add some momentum. A couple of meetings are scheduled for the evening on next Wednesday, September 23rd in River Falls and Hudson:
  • River Falls Public Library
    140 Union St
    River Falls, WI
    5:30 pm

    Hudson House Grand Hotel
    1616 Crest View Drive
    Hudson, WI
    7:00 pm
Here's an article with a little more info:

http://www.hudsonstarobserver.com/news/ ... -rail-line

User avatar
VacantLuxuries
Landmark Center
Posts: 226
Joined: February 20th, 2015, 12:38 pm

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby VacantLuxuries » September 16th, 2015, 9:38 am

If this was built, wouldn't that kind of make the Gold Line pointless? I mean, it'd obviously serve different functions because a commuter/regional rail service wouldn't be as frequent as BRT, but during peak times, what would be the point of taking the Gold Line over the train?

LakeCharles
US Bank Plaza
Posts: 636
Joined: January 16th, 2014, 8:34 am
Location: Kingfield

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby LakeCharles » September 16th, 2015, 9:42 am

If this was built, wouldn't that kind of make the Gold Line pointless? I mean, it'd obviously serve different functions because a commuter/regional rail service wouldn't be as frequent as BRT, but during peak times, what would be the point of taking the Gold Line over the train?
Well the regional rail might only have stops in St. Paul, Hudson, Menomonie, and Eau Claire, for example. And then there would be no overlap at all with Gold Line ridership.

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2722
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby mulad » September 16th, 2015, 9:51 am

Here's a map that shows the most likely routing, along the Union Pacific line to Eau Claire. There's also a parallel line that's part of the Canadian National Railroad system (not to be confused with Canadian Pacific) which runs farther to the north and ends up in Chippewa Falls, though the towns it hits are smaller and probably wouldn't produce as many passengers.

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid= ... WyEGWVA6NE

This runs pretty well north of the I-94 corridor that Gateway really clings to, but that ends up avoiding a lot of the populated area closest to the Twin Cities (especially Woodbury). But it does do a good job of hitting or running close to towns between Hudson and Eau Claire -- better than I-94 does.

User avatar
VacantLuxuries
Landmark Center
Posts: 226
Joined: February 20th, 2015, 12:38 pm

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby VacantLuxuries » September 16th, 2015, 10:02 am

Nice map. Looks like they could get a good park and ride station to serve Stillwater and Bayport, depending on whether it would make sense with the service schedule.

grant1simons2
Capella Tower
Posts: 3793
Joined: February 8th, 2014, 11:33 pm
Location: Marcy-Holmes

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby grant1simons2 » September 16th, 2015, 10:03 am

Downtown Menomonie will be very hard to reach because of the lake, but can't skip because of UW-Stout. Would like to see a stop in Baldwin if it's possible. It has a good downtown area. Closest you could get to the downtown of Hudson is 1/2 a mile, but people would walk it because of the scenery.

RailBaronYarr
Capella Tower
Posts: 2477
Joined: September 16th, 2012, 4:31 pm

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby RailBaronYarr » September 16th, 2015, 12:58 pm

I can't imagine it'd be worth the expense to get tracks all the way to downtown Menomonie (even though there's a good chunk of ROW preserved as a trail today) and then back out again to the mainline when a timed shuttle could just run from the station to a couple points on campus & downtown. Add the political resistance in running through the backyards of a bunch of single family homeowners who probably see this as something they'll never use. But I agree a stop in Baldwin would make sense!

Any idea what range of speeds this would operate at? I won't think too much ahead (ex. extending to Madison since it's 1/3 the way there) since even a 15 year timeframe seems optimistic for this project.

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2722
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby mulad » September 16th, 2015, 1:17 pm

I'm relatively optimistic, actually. I believe most of the route has 50 mph speed limits today, and there's a relatively low amount of traffic (something like 5 trains per day, I think). The Chicago & North Western's "400" ran on this route until the 1950s, and could apparently get up in the 90-100 mph range, though eventually the stretch between here and Eau Claire -- technically owned by the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad (Omaha Road) -- was reduced to a 79 mph limit because it didn't have special signaling needed to let trains run faster. The line east of Eau Claire (actual C&NW territory) had an automatic train stop (ATS) system to trip the brakes on trains that ran past stop signals, so that segment still allowed speeds up to ~90 for a while longer.

So I figure the main problems are repairing the track itself to 79+ mph quality, ensuring there's sufficient signaling on the line, repairing/upgrading any old bridges that currently have speed restrictions, and maybe adding a passing siding or two (it's mostly single-track today). Then there's the problem of stations and a maintenance facility, of course.

Online
Silophant
Moderator
Posts: 2665
Joined: June 20th, 2012, 4:33 pm
Location: 9Marq

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby Silophant » September 16th, 2015, 1:29 pm

Did the rail plan suggest approximate stop spacing for these rail lines? Menomonie and Hudson are obvious stations, and adding Baldwin would make for ~20mi spacing, but would it be worth it to add Oakdale and Elk Mound (~10 mi from SPUD and Eau Claire)stops to maybe pick up some closer-in commuters?

User avatar
Tiller
US Bank Plaza
Posts: 618
Joined: January 17th, 2015, 11:58 am

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby Tiller » September 16th, 2015, 2:08 pm

I would imagine a station in Oakdale could sustain itself, though probably not Elk Mound. Instead of having a station at Elk Mound, the trains could back out of the station in Eau Claire ala the Interchange and serve a final station 10 miles north in Chippewa Falls.

grant1simons2
Capella Tower
Posts: 3793
Joined: February 8th, 2014, 11:33 pm
Location: Marcy-Holmes

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby grant1simons2 » September 16th, 2015, 2:20 pm

Essentially there could someday be an extension to Chippewa Falls, Marshfield, Stevens Point, Waupaca, Appleton and Green Bay.

acs
Wells Fargo Center
Posts: 1331
Joined: March 26th, 2014, 8:41 pm

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby acs » September 16th, 2015, 2:28 pm

If they are going to go through the trouble of extending spurs closer to the town centers and having trains back in/out, could they also get something closer to downtown stillwater? Maybe by extending the spur from bayport?

grant1simons2
Capella Tower
Posts: 3793
Joined: February 8th, 2014, 11:33 pm
Location: Marcy-Holmes

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby grant1simons2 » September 16th, 2015, 2:32 pm

Too bad they already ripped out the old Zephyr rails.

User avatar
Mdcastle
US Bank Plaza
Posts: 761
Joined: March 23rd, 2013, 8:28 am
Location: Bloomington, MN
Contact:

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby Mdcastle » September 16th, 2015, 4:35 pm

1) How many people live withing walking distance of downtown Stillwater that commute to a point in the Twin Cities reachable from one of the stations? Although the goal is to build more structured parking downtown, it's not a place for a park and ride. Parking is such an issue already downtown that the probability of "park and hiders" isn't going to go over too well. Most people from Stillwater are going to drive from one of the residential areas to a park and ride, so the place to build it is on the outskirts, where there's land and no detour for the train.

2) The Zephyr line would not be at all useful. It runs from downtown north, then west and dead-ends where the Gateway trail is and the tracks were ripped up decades ago. Following the Gateway trail from downtown, then the Zephyr line would require a huge amount of new rail, and already I was surprised at how heavily the Brown's Creek Trail is used even though it's only been open a year.

3) The spur from Bayport they're still ripping it up as we speak for the new trail associated with the St. Croix Crossing. Now that the location is final and thus not going to run through what they wanted to be a park south of dowtown, they've invested a lot of money buying the property and are creating the park, obviously with no provisions for a commuter rail line through it.

As much as it seems logical to put a train station in a cute downtown (and would make some people hauling their antiques home on weekdays happy), I don't see it as doable or even desirable, considering the time impact to the rest of the line.

grant1simons2
Capella Tower
Posts: 3793
Joined: February 8th, 2014, 11:33 pm
Location: Marcy-Holmes

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby grant1simons2 » September 16th, 2015, 4:53 pm

As much as it seems logical to put a train station in a cute downtown (and would make some people hauling their antiques home on weekdays happy), I don't see it as doable or even desirable, considering the time impact to the rest of the line.
Ever looked at any other commuter rail ever? Chicago? Boston? NYC? Anything on the East Coast? They're all in downtowns for a reason. Because even small towns have their centers of business in the "cute downtown" still. A lot of people still need to go downtown for a number of reasons I'd rather not waste my time listing off.

MNdible
is great.
Posts: 4903
Joined: June 8th, 2012, 8:14 pm
Location: Minneapolis

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby MNdible » September 16th, 2015, 5:01 pm

While it's true that lots of other commuter rail lines serve the downtowns of small outlying towns, I can't think of many (any) examples where the train detours off of the mainline to do so. In many cases, these downtowns were built up because of the rail service, especially in areas with a long history of commuting by rail.

acs
Wells Fargo Center
Posts: 1331
Joined: March 26th, 2014, 8:41 pm

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby acs » September 16th, 2015, 5:03 pm

My suggestion was highly idealistic but Monte is right.A park & ride with a shuttle is about the closest this thing will get to stillwater. In fact, if this line ever happens at all that's pretty much how it's going to be for most of the towns along the line. The amount of effort to acquire land and build spurs into downtowns and then the time costs of backing into and out of single track sidings would be large. Yeah, I'd love for it to happen because I don't see this as a commuter line at all and neither does MNDOT, but as we've seen once the bike lobby gets their hand on the land it's pretty much game over for anything else, rail-banking be damned.

User avatar
Tiller
US Bank Plaza
Posts: 618
Joined: January 17th, 2015, 11:58 am

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby Tiller » September 16th, 2015, 5:08 pm

There is a lot of utility in putting stations in downtown areas, which are generally preferable to park and rides, though both have their uses. On a low-priority project like this, the marginal benefits from [having a station in downtown stillwater] vs [having a station on the outskirts where people can park&ride] doesn't really justify the marginal costs.

Edit: And my suggestion for backing out of the Eau Claire station to serve a final one in Chippewa Falls was because the track between the two already exists, and because Chippewa Falls has a sizable population (a bit over 15X the population of Elk Run).

grant1simons2
Capella Tower
Posts: 3793
Joined: February 8th, 2014, 11:33 pm
Location: Marcy-Holmes

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby grant1simons2 » September 16th, 2015, 5:13 pm

I was really just saying it was too bad they already tore out the Zephyr tracks for a potential future river train. I think it'd be a bit foolish for this train to detour to downtown Bayport or Stillwater, just due to existing complicated barriers that would make it difficult. Sorry for the confusion. Hudson, Baldwin and Eau Claire all have potential stops located within good distance of their core, but I wish that we could see a drop down to Stout Road in Menomonie

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2722
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby mulad » September 16th, 2015, 9:02 pm

Yeah, I'm pretty frustrated that all of the different links to Stillwater have been ripped out at this point. If there had been a decent push a decade ago to really reconnect the city, it might have worked to include some extra grading in the St. Croix Crossing project to have a branch come off of that kink in the Union Pacific line near Bayport and head along the riverfront into downtown. It still wouldn't be that hard today to have a short branch end at the Washington County Courthouse building. Unfortunately, both cases would probably need to be the end of the line.

I should try to figure out the ridership on the express buses that serve Stillwater...

The other more major towns/cities have some issues too. As people have mentioned, Menomonie has a problem of indirect access, and that problem is at play to certain extents in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls too. It's not possible to get all the way into downtown Eau Claire on existing tracks, though they pass within a couple blocks. With the way rails are configured today, an extension to Chippewa Falls would require having a train run in the reverse direction on that last leg, though that may be resolvable since it looks like there's a half-decent abandoned corridor that runs along Galloway Street and then north paralleling Business US-53.

The tracks in Chippewa Falls itself are a bit strange -- it's hard to tell on Google Maps, but it's a steep climb going northeast from downtown Chippewa on Grand Avenue and other streets. Putting a station on the tracks as the get closest to Grand Avenue would be decent enough, but that's a good 3/4 mile from the town center. On the other hand, it puts it closer to places like Cray, Chippewa Valley Technical College, and St. Joseph's Hospital (Small-town sprawl! Yay! Or not...)

Of course, that branch of track goes in the wrong direction if you eventually want to reach Green Bay. There's always something wrong.


Return to “Transportation”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: alleycat, BoredAgain and 3 guests