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Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: March 29th, 2016, 11:10 am
by twincitizen
Met Council/MNDOT response (i.e. dumping a bucket of ice cold reality on Knoblach's make believe "solution"):
“It’s not feasible to extend service, build additional track, serve more people, and have it cost the same as it does today,” Met Council Chair Adam Duininck and MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle said in the statement. “It is unlikely that BNSF railroad would allow the state to operate on its track at no additional cost,” the officials said. “Any proposal to extend Northstar will take real funding solutions.”

Preliminary estimates to build out the Northstar Line to St. Cloud show a cost of $40 million to $50 million, not including acquiring permission to use the BNSF railway, Met Council spokesperson Kate Brickman said in an email. The Met Council estimate does not include operating costs, Brickman said.

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: March 31st, 2016, 5:49 pm
by mulad
The Northstar Link buses connecting Big Lake to St. Cloud are aging and will probably need to be replaced soon (exactly how soon is up for debate). MnDOT will pay for up to 80% of the cost of the buses, contingent on a 5-year operating agreement. Hennepin and Anoka counties have helped pay for operational costs up until now, but are reportedly no longer interested. Sherburne and Stearns county may/will need to take up the slack.

http://www.citizennewspaper.com/news/co ... ink-future

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: March 31st, 2016, 9:27 pm
by jebr
It should be interesting to see how that plays into the argument for extending the Northstar line, if it does at all. At about a $200,000 subsidy per year, and with some extra cost for buses coming up, I could see some people stating that the money may be better spent investing in improvements to get the Northstar up to St. Cloud. An upgraded parking lot and platform at the current Amtrak station could be a good investment for St. Cloud (and perhaps even Stearns County would chip in?) if the Northstar was extended.

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: April 16th, 2016, 5:48 pm
by mulad
Op-ed by Charles Zelle (MnDOT commissioner) and Adam Duinick (Met Council chair) regarding the bill to extend Northstar to St. Cloud for "free". They suggest it would cost up to $43 million for capital improvements, plus an unknown amount for right-of-way (I think the better term is "easement") on BNSF's tracks:

http://www.sctimes.com/story/opinion/20 ... /82976336/

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: April 18th, 2016, 9:39 am
by mattaudio
I suspect the truth is somewhere in between.

Knoblauch can score points with his urban constituency by pushing this, without appearing to be too pro-tax-and-spend or too pro-transit by his own Republican party. He's selling this as an efficiency -- do more with what we already have, and appealing to "good government" conservative ideals (no comment on that).

Zelle and Duininck look at this, and want to use it as a bargaining chip to get what they want this session: 1. An ongoing funding stream (gas tax?) and 2. transit investments alongside road and bridges spending. It's in their interests to puff up the expense and complexity of things as much as possible. After all, they're both part of the "Infrastructure Establishment" and benefit from the more-is-more ideal (no comment on that either).

The truth is, we don't need to engineer this extension to the same degree as the existing stations. We could do things incrementally, and scrape something together. We also have a fully-double-tracked mainline between Big Lake and Becker, something we didn't have a year ago. That has to reduce the opportunity cost of providing trackage rights for Northstar trains, which ideally should reduce expenses for the service. But there are also complexities, such as schedule planning and resource management, revenue considerations if they cancel existing commuter frequencies from Big Lake, and even the physical connection between the Big Lake station track and the mainline beyond it (the track currently ends as a dead end at the Big Lake station platform).

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: April 18th, 2016, 10:03 am
by acs
^On the political side, you nailed it. It's taking a reasonable and now doable idea and using it for posturing on both sides. I thought it was extremely petty for MNDOT and the Met Council to essentially come out and take a public dump on the proposal as soon as it was put forth. That's not how deals are made and things get done, but it looks good for voters and that's all they care about. Sure, Knaublauch's idea probably wouldn't pan out, but if the Met Council was serious about getting support and eventually building this you A) have a more delicate public response, and B) Don't explicitly tie this project to your party's version of a comprehensive transportation bill that's unlikely to get passed. Putting all the eggs in one basket is a surefire way to get nothing.

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: April 18th, 2016, 10:18 am
by mattaudio
Agreed. Even if this is unrealistic, it was an olive branch for transit from a GOP legislator. There are plenty of other comments by GOP members for Zelle or Duininck (two Dayton appointees) to dump on... Tim Kelly has provided many. You can give cues that things are more complex and expensive than Knoblauch is leading on, but I still think it would be more productive to invite him to the table and discuss these items rather than resorting to a public shaming in the media.

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: April 18th, 2016, 10:26 am
by mulad
You guys are welcome to that perspective, but it sure seemed like a branch of rotten olives to me.

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: April 28th, 2016, 1:18 pm
by mulad
I've been thinking of setting up a weekend trip on the Northstar for anyone from the streets.mn community who would like to go -- either people who just enjoy the train, or folks who have never tried it before (I know there are a few of you lurking around). If we could organize something to do as a group, it would be a nice reason for folks to finally try it out.

Of course, I'd also like it to happen on a weekend when the light rail lines are also up and running properly, which has been a challenge. I think the only guaranteed weekends are when there's a Twins game going on, which can be busy, though maybe that would be more interesting than a quieter day. Does anyone have recommendations for a date in the next few weeks to try it? I can try to verify with Metro Transit whether anything would impinge.

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: April 28th, 2016, 1:49 pm
by mattaudio
I've been interested in doing the same thing. Do they run the Link on weekends to St. Cloud? That would bridge the gap to a place more interesting than a parking lot in Big Lake to hang out during a layover (Lunch at Val's, anyone?) then back again.

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: April 28th, 2016, 2:21 pm
by mulad
They do, but the schedule is only set up to allow transfers from people originating in St. Cloud in the morning and returning there in the evening.

As for food, I've been able to make it over to Coborn's and grab something from their deli in the past, but I think the layover has gotten shorter since I last did that. The last time I went north to do lunch with a group, we all brought our own food and did a little "picnic".

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: April 28th, 2016, 2:49 pm
by DanPatchToget
acs wrote:^On the political side, you nailed it. It's taking a reasonable and now doable idea and using it for posturing on both sides. I thought it was extremely petty for MNDOT and the Met Council to essentially come out and take a public dump on the proposal as soon as it was put forth. That's not how deals are made and things get done, but it looks good for voters and that's all they care about. Sure, Knaublauch's idea probably wouldn't pan out, but if the Met Council was serious about getting support and eventually building this you A) have a more delicate public response, and B) Don't explicitly tie this project to your party's version of a comprehensive transportation bill that's unlikely to get passed. Putting all the eggs in one basket is a surefire way to get nothing.
Why accept an unreasonable idea? If they were willing to come to a compromise thats more reasonable (as in not cutting ANY Northstar service but still extending it to St. Cloud somehow) then sure, but considering an idea thats unrealistic just to make politicians happy isn't part of transit planning (or it shouldn't be).

While we're at it, scrap the SW LRT plan and just add some bus service along the corridor to make the GOP happy. That would work, right?

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: April 28th, 2016, 3:07 pm
by Tiller
"Compromising with crazy just makes you half crazy."

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: July 29th, 2016, 8:47 am
by mulad
There have been a few reports of Northstar trains showing up on BNSF's Wayzata subdivision west of Minneapolis along U.S. 12, reportedly for testing the positive train control (PTC) signaling that has been getting installed on the line. It probably doesn't indicate anything more significant, but it's interesting to know that the line is being set up to be compatible with passenger trains (I'm guessing they just want to be sure they can handle an Amtrak detour if it ever happens, since the Empire Builder sometimes needs to go that way to/from Fargo if there's an accident along the Staples subdivision which covers most of the distance from Minneapolis to Fargo along the U.S. 10 corridor).

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: July 29th, 2016, 8:53 am
by mattaudio
Mike I thought there was a further comment in that thread that alluded to this as testing PTC in the Northstar cabs, rather than testing the PTC of the Wayzata Sub (since Wayzata Sub has less train traffic than Staples Sub).

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: July 29th, 2016, 9:02 am
by mulad
I hadn't seen that comment, but that'd be a good explanation. I had been under the impression that the Northstar equipment had some sort of PTC equipment installed from the beginning, but the technology was immature in 2009, and new hardware would probably be needed regardless.

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: July 29th, 2016, 9:06 am
by mattaudio
Speaking of Northstar, anyone want to do a train day trip one of these weekends? We could Amtrak to Red Wing/Winona or Northstar to Big Lake.

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: July 29th, 2016, 7:16 pm
by Mdcastle
A while ago I suggested to my sister we take Northstar to Big Lake to go get coffee some Saturday...

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: July 29th, 2016, 7:39 pm
by jebr
Depending on the weekend, I'd be interested in taking a Northstar or Amtrak trip.

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Posted: July 29th, 2016, 8:30 pm
by Mdcastle
Looking at Northstar a typical Saturday you'd either have enough time in Big Lake to run fast to Caribou and back or else find a way to fill 5 hours in the area without a car.