Yeah, I'd like to see something like that. I think it's achievable without a totally ginormous investment, though it still wouldn't exactly be cheap. I guess I should try hunting for numbers again, but off the top of my head, it seems like Northstar sucks down $12 to $15 million a year in subsidies. But if we invested another $100 million into the line to get the needed capacity, could we drop that subsidy significantly? I think that if proper value engineering is applied, there's actually enough direct savings to be had that it would make sense for Metro Transit to go to a big bank and simply ask for a plain vanilla 10- or 20-year loan to pay for it. The new operating cost plus the loan payments would likely be cheaper than the current operating cost. I wrote about this basic idea on my blog a year ago, though I only really envisioned converting the existing daily mileage into a few round-trips per day -- it would have lost its commuter identity entirely.mattaudio wrote:My hypothetical for Northstar?
Repurpose it as regional rail. Departures from STC and Mpls every two hours.
Maybe leaving STC at 5 AM, 6, 6:30, 7, 7:30, 8, 10, Noon, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10
Leaving Mpls at 5, 7, 9, 11, 1, 3, 4, 4:30, 5, 5:30, 6, 7, 9, 11
I went for an outing on the Northstar this afternoon, and I was reminded of several things. For one, the Northstar train is actually a useful service for many people, so I'm glad you tried to keep some reasonable peak-time service in your schedule. The outbound train I took had 4 cars, and I poked my head into two of them which seemed to be 50-60% full (at least if you only consider seating room -- with a full standing load, the capacity doubles or triples). Most people took one seat and had the seat next to them empty, though I think some folks were doubled up, especially on the upper level which is a bit more scenic. It was definitely quieter on the return trip, though. It was the same physical train -- I went up to Anoka, walked over to Subway for some supper, then walked back to catch the train as it made its return.
The "kiss-and-ride" bay was pretty much full when I got off in Anoka, as were the parking lots.
The Northstar service does carry more than 4 times as many passengers as its predecessor bus route did, which makes it pretty hard for me to consider it an outright failure. It's a pretty smooth ride -- smoother than Hiawatha in many respects. It's also pretty cool to me how people use it for
The big problem is just that the operating costs skyrocketed when the transition was made from buses to a huge double-decker train. Expensive equipment like that should be in motion as much as possible, but they sit parked way too much.
There are a couple of things that should be done to make the Northstar cheaper to operate. First, it's probably best to trim the train crew size -- There are 3 or 4 people per train: an engineer, a conductor, an assistant conductor, and in at least some instances there seems to be a second engineer in the trailing cab. Considering how I've frequently seen the local police or county sheriffs onboard checking tickets or just making their presence known, there really isn't much need for more than one conductor. I'm not sure how much money that would really save, though -- it may only be a drop in the bucket. At the moment, my sense is that the cost savings would be greater from simply running the trains for more hours each day rather than trimming the crew size.
On another topic, sort of, I was thinking that it'd be a good idea to add a Northeast Minneapolis station at or near the Northrup King Building. It's a fairly industrial area, though it does give the potential benefit of building platforms at both of the main BNSF lines through town -- the Midway subdivision which Northstar currently uses (and Amtrak often uses to get to Midway station, and will probably continue to use to get to SPUD), and the St. Paul subdivision which is a faster way to get over to St. Paul because it doesn't have any yards in the way.