Northstar Commuter Rail

Roads - Rails - Sidewalks - Bikeways
Tcmetro
Wells Fargo Center
Posts: 1276
Joined: May 31st, 2012, 8:02 pm
Location: Chicago (ex-Minneapolitan)

Re: Northstar

Postby Tcmetro » July 31st, 2012, 11:00 pm

It's perfect for the typical 8-4 or 9-5 commute where you work downtown and drive to/from the park and ride. If you look at any of the high ridership bus lines (5, 10, 16, 18, etc) you will notice that a large proportion of the trips are not work related, but are more spontaneous trips and are more likely to be non-work related.

For Northstar to work, not only would the schedule need to be expanded to run every hour or better all day or so, but connecting buses would need to be upgraded from basically non-existent to good levels of service throughout the day to allow for spontaneous trips. If Northstar wants to succeed in the commuter market, it needs to provide the highest level of service to those commuters. In Fridley, it fails because local buses are spaced quite closely so walking to the bus stop is a viable alternative to the train. In Coon Rapids, the 850 bus runs every few minutes and drops off within a block or two from pretty much all the offices in downtown, and additionally doesn't require an extra fare on top of the Metropass. The main Northstar market is Anoka/Ramsey/Elk River/Big Lake which are all smaller than the inner suburbs and obviously the commuter market to downtown thins the further out you get.

Looking at the successful commuter lines across the country, i.e. Chicago, NYC, etc, you will see that there is little or no competing bus service and closely spaced stations in the suburbs allowing for easier access. In the downtowns, office developments surround the train stations. Instead, stations on Northstar are few and far between, offer poor bus and walking connections, and the downtown station is basically surrounded by the stadium, parking garages, and a freeway viaduct.

Simply put, there are a number of inherent structural issues with Northstar as it exists. Lowering the fares or extending the line may help, but aren't going to do too much. Adding stations, improving pedestrian connections, adding good bus connections, and improving service levels would do the most help in raising new ridership.

mattaudio
Stone Arch Bridge
Posts: 7609
Joined: June 19th, 2012, 2:04 pm
Location: NORI: NOrth of RIchfield

Re: Northstar

Postby mattaudio » August 1st, 2012, 8:09 am

I agree with all of the structural issues, but isn't the main one that there are many express buses that are a fraction of the cost that are competing with Northstar?

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2751
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » August 1st, 2012, 9:34 am

Yeah, the fares are now evened out between Northstar and express bus services -- Northstar now costs $3.00 for commuters from Anoka, Coon Rapids, and Fridley (as well as station-to-station riders), which is the same as a rush-hour express bus fare. Anoka marks the furthest extent of express bus service along the corridor.

I heard a few months ago that the Foley Boulevard park-and-ride has been getting 90+% full at times, so the reduced fares might encourage people to distribute their usage a bit more evenly along the corridor (the Fridley station hasn't been getting used much -- at least for parking). However, the Foley ramp has much more frequent service plus some midday runs as well. Route 850 provides the bulk of peak-time service, and has service intervals as low as 5 minutes apart. Route 852 provides some midday and reverse-peak service -- only about once an hour, but that's better than Northstar can do at the moment.

User avatar
FISHMANPET
IDS Center
Posts: 4576
Joined: June 6th, 2012, 2:19 pm
Location: Corcoran

Re: Northstar

Postby FISHMANPET » August 6th, 2012, 9:21 am

I don't remember where I saw it now (I think the Strib, or some other reputable news source), but someone from Metro Transit said the Northstar actually makes a little money, so that cushion would be used to absorb the decreased revenue.

If it's true that seems like a pretty big deal, yet I'm not seeing it mentioned anywhere else so maybe it's not true?

User avatar
Nick
Capella Tower
Posts: 2979
Joined: May 30th, 2012, 9:33 pm
Location: Loring Park, Minneapolis

Re: Northstar

Postby Nick » August 6th, 2012, 9:37 am

FISHMANPET wrote:I don't remember where I saw it now (I think the Strib, or some other reputable news source), but someone from Metro Transit said the Northstar actually makes a little money, so that cushion would be used to absorb the decreased revenue.

If it's true that seems like a pretty big deal, yet I'm not seeing it mentioned anywhere else so maybe it's not true?
That's extra, super-duper not true. It runs at a subsidy of about $20 a ride.

User avatar
FISHMANPET
IDS Center
Posts: 4576
Joined: June 6th, 2012, 2:19 pm
Location: Corcoran

Re: Northstar

Postby FISHMANPET » August 6th, 2012, 9:39 am

Ahha, found it:
http://minnesota.publicradio.org/displa ... mta-fares/

Second to last paragraph, though it's such a weirdly worderd statement I don't know what they even mean by it.

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2751
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » August 6th, 2012, 2:40 pm

I'm sure that refers to the CTIB funding and other sources. In other words, it's running under-budget even though the ridership is below expectations. I know some counties have gotten refunds for their contributions to operating costs for the line in the past.

mattaudio
Stone Arch Bridge
Posts: 7609
Joined: June 19th, 2012, 2:04 pm
Location: NORI: NOrth of RIchfield

Re: Northstar

Postby mattaudio » August 6th, 2012, 2:48 pm

The other thing is, the marginal cost of new riders is likely approaching $0 at least to the point the current trains are full. So for each new passenger they can attract at, say, $4 then they're actually going to be earning an additional $4.

mattaudio
Stone Arch Bridge
Posts: 7609
Joined: June 19th, 2012, 2:04 pm
Location: NORI: NOrth of RIchfield

Re: Northstar

Postby mattaudio » August 6th, 2012, 2:52 pm

^meaning the "marginal subsidy" would, in effect, be $0 to the point where additional staff or cars or trains needs to be increased.

mattaudio
Stone Arch Bridge
Posts: 7609
Joined: June 19th, 2012, 2:04 pm
Location: NORI: NOrth of RIchfield

Re: Northstar

Postby mattaudio » August 16th, 2012, 4:40 pm

Just found another document.... http://www.dot.state.mn.us/federalrecov ... errail.pdf

Although I'm assuming this was turned down for TIGER funding, I bet the BNSF easement work would remain the same.

There's currently a 12-trip easement. This looks like it's used by all the scheduled Northstar runs so I'm assuming it excludes Amtrak as is. The third main to Coon Creek Jct along with other improvements would net 22 more frequencies a day.

Doubling Northstar to 13 trains each way would allow for all day service nearly every two hours, which would make this much more legitimate as a regional rail connection. This would take 14 of the 22 new slots, leaving 8 slots for 4x/day each way Northern Lights service in the same corridor down the road.

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2751
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » August 16th, 2012, 10:43 pm

Yeah, the infamous "third main" project. I guess I should examine this in detail again, since it turns out I have some incorrect recollections of it -- I'd always assumed that the project included the Foley Boulevard station, but I'm not actually seeing it included (though the easement for it is). It does include a grade separation of Foley Boulevard itself (which seems to be proceeding as a distinct project) and a "widening" of the MN-610 bridge over the railroad tracks (what would that have to do with anything?).

The 22 trains/day expansion seems a bit too limited to me -- the studies I've seen for NLX put that service at 8x daily round-trips (16 daily trains), which doesn't leave much room for service to St. Cloud or beyond -- though I suppose at least some St. Cloud runs were/are planned to be extensions of some existing slots.

I've never been able to wrap my head around the cost of $10+ million per mile of track for the third main project. They proposed 6 miles with the construction and easement totaling $74 million (not counting around $2 million in utility relocation and $4 million in right-of-way acquisition). The grade separation and other projects bring the total up to $113 million. Track construction itself should probably only be $2 to $3 million/mile, so about 3/4 of the $74 million is probably going toward easements. I hope I'm somehow doing the math wrong, but that feels sky-high considering that the entire 39-mile Northstar corridor easement for initial service was around $100 million.

Anyway, it feels like it's just not quite enough -- close, but not quite. Maybe there will be some improved signaling systems to squeeze out a bit more capacity from the line, such as when Positive Train Control gets fully rolled-out, but that still seems to be a moving target.

Ideally at least one of the services will run a surplus with the expansion, and then allow that money to be funneled into further expansion (such as quad-tracking between Coon Rapids and Fridley), but it's hard to say if that will ever happen. The studies for NLX imply that it's being designed with the goal of being operationally profitable, but only by the skin of its teeth at this point. And with Northstar, cost recovery simply wasn't a design goal -- instead, it's designed to be a dynamic extra lane of U.S. 10 that magically appears during rush hours. At this point, I don't hold out much hope that Northstar can really operate in the black -- the operating subsidy might be able to be shaved down by a few million per year, but it's hard to imagine the cost escalation from increased service being low enough for that math to work.

Well, enough rambling for now...

mattaudio
Stone Arch Bridge
Posts: 7609
Joined: June 19th, 2012, 2:04 pm
Location: NORI: NOrth of RIchfield

Re: Northstar

Postby mattaudio » August 17th, 2012, 8:16 am

This is why the new 610 bridge is needed... http://goo.gl/maps/HRu6e Sad, considering that bridge is probably <20 years old.

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2751
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » August 17th, 2012, 9:19 am

I've convinced myself that a third track could fit in there, probably by shifting the existing tracks slightly. It might be legitimately too tight, though, especially since a derailment in the area would end badly. Still, it makes no sense why the bridges over the tracks were so small when neighboring ones at East River Road and Coon Rapids Boulevard were much bigger.

The other thing I've convinced myself of is that Mn/DOT did something stupid here and they should find some other way to pay for fixing those bridges rather than charging it to a rail project.

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2751
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » October 8th, 2012, 8:09 am

Say goodbye to the "Bomp Pop" -- the Northstar locomotive that had been leased from the Utah Transit Authority has finally been repainted (It was #12, now renumbered 512).

http://rrpicturearchives.net/showPictur ... id=3225861

Metro Transit had received the locomotive pretty early, and planned to purchase it after just a few months (sometime in 2010), but I think negotiations dragged on for some reason. I'm not sure when the deal finally went through.

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2751
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » October 13th, 2012, 11:51 pm

Has anyone heard anything about Ramsey station progress? Assuming it's on schedule, it should be opening any day now. Reports from early in the year said it should be done by the end of October.

MSPtoMKE
Rice Park
Posts: 493
Joined: June 20th, 2012, 8:15 pm
Location: Loring Heights
Contact:

Re: Northstar

Postby MSPtoMKE » October 14th, 2012, 9:18 am

I haven't heard anything official, but I had assumed that it would open with one of the quarterly service changes, which usually happens in early December I believe.
My flickr photos.

theroose
Block E
Posts: 18
Joined: June 1st, 2012, 3:50 pm
Location: Chicago

Re: Northstar

Postby theroose » October 14th, 2012, 1:41 pm

The Ramsey Station is coming along, but it still has some work to be done. The structure is built and the skyway is up connecting it to the parking ramp. There is still some glass to be installed from what I can see driving by on highway 10 as I go to work. Ill try to swing in there in the next day to get a closer look and snap some pictures... Not sure if it will be done in the next 2-3 weeks though...Also, the apartment complex that is going up on the other side of the ramp is going up pretty quickly.

UptownSport
US Bank Plaza
Posts: 607
Joined: July 23rd, 2012, 12:07 am

Re: Northstar

Postby UptownSport » October 14th, 2012, 6:04 pm

Pre-Mortem for the Northstar:

http://www.startribune.com/opinion/comm ... 64061.html

Quote:
""""Five years ago, I served as chairman of the Metropolitan Council's Transportation Committee. I have to admit I was very skeptical about spending precious transit resources to test commuter rail in the Twin Cities. And now, after nearly three full years of Northstar service, it appears that the skeptics were right: Northstar has failed to meet ridership projections, even during its first full and widely promoted year of operation. Starting in 2010, Northstar Commuter Rail debuted with 183,000 fewer passengers than projected. I realize that no transit-rail line in the country comes close to covering its operating costs. But Northstar continues to defy even the most modest ridership expectations.""""

User avatar
Ottergoose
Metrodome
Posts: 72
Joined: October 11th, 2012, 3:54 pm
Location: Burnsville, MN
Contact:

Re: Northstar

Postby Ottergoose » October 14th, 2012, 6:58 pm

Yep, the best way to increase ridership is to reduce service... makes sense to me!

User avatar
spectre000
Union Depot
Posts: 301
Joined: May 31st, 2012, 9:05 pm
Location: Downtown St. Paul

Re: Northstar

Postby spectre000 » October 14th, 2012, 9:06 pm

Ottergoose wrote:Yep, the best way to increase ridership is to reduce service... makes sense to me!
I don't think the editorial was advocating increasing ridership. The idea is to reduce the operating costs. Less service on days when ridership is low will result in less subsidization for the days when it is running. A bit short sighted. But if we don't have the money to extend the line to St. Cloud, which would increase ridership and perhaps reduce the operating losses, cutting back service might be the best of a bad situation.


Return to “Transportation”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: sanchopanza and 2 guests