Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

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Tiller
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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby Tiller » September 16th, 2015, 9:40 pm

mulad wrote:There's always something wrong.
This so much.

As for the Stillwater thing, while we can't connect it to the cities with this project, a LRT/BRT project along highway 36 could do so. If I recall correctly from Metro Transit's highway BRT study, highway 36 had the highest marginal 2030 ridership from adding highway BRT service (something like 10k daily riders). It could probably even sustain itself as a light rail corridor after accounting for rail bias (and hopefully a routing that isn't scared of leaving the freeway).

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby Silophant » September 16th, 2015, 11:05 pm

mulad wrote:It's not possible to get all the way into downtown Eau Claire on existing tracks, though they pass within a couple blocks.
I feel like an Eau Claire station at or near where the tracks pass over Madison would be fine. It's on the edge of downtown, sure, but so are SPUD and TFS.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby mulad » September 17th, 2015, 6:26 am

Yeah, it's pretty close -- it's just at that distance where you wish it could be a little bit closer.

Updating the numbers I gave earlier -- according to the Highway-Rail Crossing Inventory, there are about 4 trains per day on the line and the top speed appears to be 40 mph for freight. Adding 4x daily round trips would add 8 trains, tripling the number, though I'm sure freights would still be on top in terms of train-feet per day.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby froggie » September 17th, 2015, 7:37 am

8 years old, but applicable here.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby Ottergoose » September 17th, 2015, 12:05 pm

UP invested heavily in infrastructure on that line recently to serve the frac sand boom which has since crashed; seems like it'd be a good time to piggyback off of that since it's already been paid for privately.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby grant1simons2 » September 17th, 2015, 3:55 pm

This is what I'd like to see

https://www.google.com/maps/@44.8976126 ... LJ5PFqrF4Y

And now that I see that 3M has a plant in Menomonie, I would guess they want the Park & Ride just across the street from their plant to make visiting it even easier.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby Mdcastle » September 17th, 2015, 5:05 pm

grant1simons2 wrote:This is what I'd like to see

https://www.google.com/maps/@44.8976126 ... LJ5PFqrF4Y

And now that I see that 3M has a plant in Menomonie, I would guess they want the Park & Ride just across the street from their plant to make visiting it even easier.
"You need permission to view this map"

As for some earlier points:
Yes, I actually have ridden commuter rail in the east, from a park and ride near my hotel 30 miles outside of Boston to downtown. It seeemed to stop more in park and ride lots than places to buy an antique vase.

A new spur with the St Croix Crossing: probably possible in theory, but it looks like the area is either wetland or housing. Not that removing a few more houses would have made much of a diference in the overall scope. If I were doing it I'd run it right along MN 95 rather than the old rail corridor though, so it wouldn't bisect the new park, which isn't that wide to begin with. We could have built a folded diamond at MN 36 and built more structured parking to compensate for the parking displaced along the highway.

It's also worth noting that Stillwater rejected a concept of remote parking lots for downtown because "people won't ride a shutttle". Whether that applies to commuters to the city that live within walking distance of a downtown station, or transferring from a train to downtown instead of a car, or even if it was true at all, I don't know.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby grant1simons2 » September 17th, 2015, 5:43 pm

Map is open now

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby mattaudio » September 17th, 2015, 6:37 pm

grant1simons2 wrote:Map is open now
What's the point of taking it offline from the existing railroad and crossing the interstate twice if it doesn't connect to the town?

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby grant1simons2 » September 17th, 2015, 6:42 pm

To cut down the travel time to get to the station for a large amount of Menomonie

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby froggie » September 17th, 2015, 9:06 pm

There are two fatal flaws I see with Grant's proposal. First, freight/intercity rail doesn't "turn on a dime". In short, the vast majority of his curves are way too tight, and even if not, they would require such slow speeds for a train to traverse them that you would easily add 15-20 minutes to the train travel time.

Second, the only people that this makes a station "closer too" are those east of Lake Menomin. The "cut-off" between Grant's proposed station location and a theoretical location along the existing rail line next to Hwy 25 is about 4th St E. It should also be noted that there is an existing rail trail that crosses I-94 that would connect most of the distance between downtown/UW-Stout and a theoretical station along the existing line. This trail could easily provide non-motorized connections to/from a station. And for vehicular connections, a Hwy 25 station would be FAR superior to Grant's proposal.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby mulad » September 20th, 2015, 2:04 pm

This appears to be the Facebook page for the group that's holding meetings this Wednesday: https://www.facebook.com/StCroixValleyRailGroup

I'll also mention the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, which I've been following for a while -- I think they had been more focused on trying to get Twin Cities to Chicago HSR going through Eau Claire. I've never been able to make it to any of their meetings, since they hold them early in the morning, so I'm not sure if there's any significant interaction between the two groups: Web, Facebook

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby mulad » September 21st, 2015, 12:50 pm


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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby Minneboy » September 21st, 2015, 4:36 pm

I'd like the HSR to run through to Rochester up to the Twin Cities then over to Eau CLaire meeting up again at Tomah. However the cost would probably make it unfeasible.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby MNdible » September 21st, 2015, 4:51 pm

I've been scratching my head on this one. I just don't think there's enough demand on this route to make it work. I know some people do make the commute from western Wisconsin, but this isn't intended to be a commuter route. Who's going to be taking a 2pm trip from Eau Claire to Minneapolis? Tourists? And who in the world is going to be going the opposite direction?

It's a little bit like the people who think that extending Northstar to St. Cloud would be its savior, because you know a college student who would love to come in to visit Minneapolis. There just aren't enough of those people out there to fill a train.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby mulad » September 21st, 2015, 9:48 pm

Well, what level of traffic do you think is necessary for it to "work"? Amtrak has a couple "corridor" trains that carry fewer than 100,000 passengers annually, and it's hard for me to imagine this route being that bad.

The good thing about a service running with several trips spread out across the whole day is that you make more efficient use of the train equipment and the crews that operate them. Each set of Northstar equipment is only in use about two hours out of every day, so it's little wonder that the service struggles to even reach a 20% fare recovery ratio. Operating a smaller fleet for a larger window each day would be much more sustainable.

Besides, many people like to just go visit somewhere for a few hours -- Going shopping, grabbing lunch with a friend, going to a medical appointment, stopping by for a business meeting, etc. Commuter-specific services like Northstar restrict you to going in at 7 or 8 in the morning and returning at 4 or 5 in the evening, and that's about it.

I grew up in a small town near Rochester where we had commuter buses come through town a couple times in the morning and evening. As a young kid and teenager, I often wanted to take them to get into town for the evening, but the schedule made that impossible. That's why I often come back to saying that there are large chunks of the population that can't drive, shouldn't drive, or don't want to drive. It's a silent missing market which is so underserved today that we don't even know how big it is, but we really need to start serving it since the status quo has not been doing any favors for them or the environment.

We probably only need to capture a couple percent of the corridor travel market to make something that minimally "works", but obviously it would be best to capture a broader spectrum of travelers to get it closer to self-sustainability.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby MNdible » September 21st, 2015, 10:16 pm

What would make it worth it? Well, it would certainly have to be a lot more than 100,000 annually, which means you're doing huge capital improvements and the ongoing expense of running four trains a day to transport less than 300 people a day so they can run some errands or go shopping.

Even in a world where we had plenty of money for passenger rail (and we certainly don't live in that world now), I don't think I'd fund it. We have a freeway that goes straight to Eau Claire, and I'd guess for the number of passengers we're talking about here, we could buy them all full-fare Jefferson Lines tickets and still come out way ahead.

I'm not anti-passenger rail, far from it. But I'd pour every available dollar into upgrading the MSP-Chicago service (and then probably look at Duluth and Rochester service) before I'd consider a tertiary route like this.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby mattaudio » September 22nd, 2015, 7:41 am

Maybe if we put a $10 toll on I-94, we could get high ridership....

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby mulad » September 22nd, 2015, 9:49 pm

I'd be more interested in improving the bus network if there were some dignified stations to wait at. For Eau Claire, some buses make it to the University of Wisconsin campus in town, but many just stop at this McDonald's, which is close to an I-94 off-ramp, but is seven miles from the central business district.

I tend to think the Eau Claire line would have ridership in the 400,000 range -- that's about 50% of the estimates for the Northern Lights Express line to Duluth, which is a somewhat larger region (280,000 people vs. 210,000) and more touristy, but farther away (150 miles instead of 100). The historic projections have been that the Duluth line would run right around break-even in terms of operating cost vs. ticket revenue, but who the hell knows since we haven't built it or anything else like it.

I stare at buses and aircraft and don't really see what's fundamentally different about operating them versus trains. The Eau Claire airport only handles around 35,000 passengers a year, and the per-seat cost of an aircraft is about as much as a house. Train vehicles cost about a tenth as much per seat. Trains obviously run on rails, but aircraft need airports, and there's the invisible infrastructure of air traffic control which costs a lot to operate. (And yes, I know that's an even smaller amount of traffic -- train fares would be cheaper than the airfare by a pretty good margin, which would attract people, and it would be connecting them to closer destinations which they're more likely to visit than whatever long-distance trek the fliers were probably taking via O'Hare).

Building and operating a train service mostly seems to come down to how dickish the freight railroads are about asking for track improvements they don't really need in order to scare people away from running passenger trains, and/or charging an arm and a leg for track access when passenger trains don't really do much damage to the rails.

Here's a document with maintenance cost estimates on passenger rail lines. I'd guess that this line does about 10 million gross tons per year in freight service (around 7,000 tons per train), which puts track maintenance cost in the range of $0.77 per mile for passenger. Considering that rail fares tend to land in the range of $0.15 to $0.30 per mile, it wouldn't take many passengers to cover the cost of keeping the tracks in good order. The big hurdle is just upgrading what currently exists back to a standard that people could reasonably use.

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Re: Twin Cities to Eau Claire regional rail

Postby MNdible » September 22nd, 2015, 10:20 pm

Probably a topic for a different thread, but the economics of small airports are certainly problematic. That said, nobody is flying from Eau Claire to MSP -- they're flying from Eau Claire to Florida or Arizona or New York or Seattle, and they just happen to be passing through MSP.

As for buses, they're driving on public right of way that the public is already paying for and maintaining, and the rolling stock costs a tiny fraction of what a train does to purchase and operate. I'll agree that the stations should be upgraded, and there are some other operational improvements that should happen, but if you live in an out-state regional center and don't drive, you'd better come to terms with riding the bus.

I'm skeptical of the Northern Lights numbers, and more so of the Eau Claire estimates, but it probably doesn't matter -- neither of them are going to happen anytime soon.

EDIT: Didn't realize that you can't fly non-stop between Eau Claire and MSP, but the first thing a google search pops up is a van shuttle service offering 13 trips per day, including a $40 RT fare to the MOA. So, another option.


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