Northern Lights Express

Roads - Rails - Sidewalks - Bikeways
HuskyGrad
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby HuskyGrad » February 7th, 2014, 10:23 am

Once the Multimodal Center is completed hopefully by next year. Jefferson Lines and Indian Trail will operate out of it.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby FISHMANPET » February 7th, 2014, 10:33 am

That will be better, but really coach service isn't going to attract choice riders. I recently took a Greyhound to Chicago and it was not a fun experience. Even if the seat is comfortable, it's just not comfortable to be sitting for 8 hours. If the Empire Builder was reliable at all between here and Chicago I would have gladly paid the extra to take that instead.

Seats on a train are bigger, and there will be more room to roam around, and also something to roam to (a lounge car or something). It's a much more comfortable experience than a coach bus for long distances.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mulad » February 7th, 2014, 12:24 pm

Well, I'd be careful about touting the spaciousness of train seating too much. One of the few things that Amtrak really leads the world in is legroom, and that's mostly on the long-distance trains. Take the Hiawatha between Milwaukee and Chicago, for instance, and it will be much more cramped. NLX seating would probably be much tighter than what's on the Empire Builder, though that's fine since passengers would only be onboard for 2.5 hours or less. Trains often have cafe or lounge cars as well, but it's hard to know if that will be true in the future either -- it's quite possible that the NLX will have airline-like service with a snack cart pushed up and down the aisle.

Still, better ride quality than a bus, and bigger windows than a plane...

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby talindsay » February 7th, 2014, 12:59 pm

mulad wrote:Well, I'd be careful about touting the spaciousness of train seating too much. One of the few things that Amtrak really leads the world in is legroom, and that's mostly on the long-distance trains. Take the Hiawatha between Milwaukee and Chicago, for instance, and it will be much more cramped. NLX seating would probably be much tighter than what's on the Empire Builder, though that's fine since passengers would only be onboard for 2.5 hours or less. Trains often have cafe or lounge cars as well, but it's hard to know if that will be true in the future either -- it's quite possible that the NLX will have airline-like service with a snack cart pushed up and down the aisle.

Still, better ride quality than a bus, and bigger windows than a plane...
Yes, good call. Going from Helsinki to Tampere for a conference once I went to the counter and asked for the "next train" and got a ticket on a slow old non-air-conditioned train. At first I thought, "crap" but it was spacious and comfortable, and had this amazing diner where I passed almost the entire ride talking with a Nokia exec about the arctic regions of Finland. The ride was a little less than two hours and wonderful. On the way back I thought I should be smarter so asked for a ticket on the next high-speed train. I spent the whole ride in a small airline-style seat packed full of people, with a steward pushing a snack cart through, all the while watching a digital display showing the "high-speed" train was reaching such extreme speeds as 150 km/h (roughly 90 mph). The ride still took well over an hour and it was less comfortable, silent, and full of commuters mindlessly waiting for it to end.

Which is to say that speed is only one component, and "modern" doesn't necessarily mean better. Trains have the potential to be much more enjoyable than planes or buses, but aren't necessarily so. I do hope that in this case they choose to strike a comfortable balance, making sure to emphasize the experience enough to make it more desirable than driving.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby talindsay » March 8th, 2014, 1:06 pm

There's a horrible, long and arduous survey, as well as good deal of information, at MnDOT's project page for this:
http://www.dot.state.mn.us/nlx/

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby acs » June 29th, 2014, 8:34 pm

http://www.startribune.com/local/west/2 ... BMceUqE.97

This has to be one of the worst articles from the Strib I've seen. Seriously, there's nothing new to report its just clickbait for transit haters. Just watch how many angry comments this gets.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby David Greene » June 30th, 2014, 5:45 am

I don't know, I was fairly shocked at the cost escalation. Do we know why that happened?

The Anoka county board seems to be full of crazies now. Erhart was one of the last sane voices.

What happens in a situation like this? Does Anoka get its station when the line is built? It seems silly to cut a productive (assuming it's productive) station out of the line because the county board at one moment in time left the party. Do they opt back in and contribute back fees to get the station?

I really do question that utility of this line. What is the target market? It can't be tourism because most vacationers heading that way are going to the North Shore and will need a car. Rentals are a possibility but it's additional hassle. The Zip line to/from Rochester seems much more viable than NLX.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby EOst » June 30th, 2014, 6:16 am

There's a fair bit of business (and even commuter) travel between Duluth and MSP. Running this at high speed speed means it's competitive with air travel, and probably bests it when you take security into consideration.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mulad » June 30th, 2014, 9:00 am

There are six round-trip flights a day, at least for the Tuesday next month that I checked. Going straight MSP-Duluth one-way was $275 for that date -- the price for that leg goes down a lot when making connections, but probably won't get as low as the fares they've been suggesting for the train. I believe previous NLX studies were using end-to-end train fares in the range of $50 to $55, so it could attract a lot more riders than the airlines do, even if people need to hop on the Blue Line to make a connection (and through-ticketing to let that happen is a possibility). That's $15 to $30 higher than bus/shuttle fares, but a lot of folks would think that's a reasonable extra cost for the ride quality of a train.

I've never been able to get much context for the capital cost estimates -- the figures around $1 billion tend to be the high-end estimates, but local news media likes to quote them because they're so high. I've tended to stick closer to something in the $700-800 million range for the past few years, but things have moved so slowly that it could easily climb just due to inflation.

Early on, I believe there were estimates below $100 million, but that was probably for running slow, infrequent (between once a day and a couple of times per week) trains on the existing tracks, like the Amtrak service that had died off in 1985. There's a whole range of upgrades that could be done on the line -- varying lengths of double-tracking (the existing route is nearly all single-tracked), varying numbers of bridges that should be replaced, varying numbers of grade crossings that should be upgraded, etc. Upgrading more stuff allows higher speeds and more runs per day, attracting more riders and more revenue, but costing more money.

The benefit/cost calculations get pretty messy, since we'd really want to balance out capital cost, operating cost, fares, ridership, speed, frequency, and various externalities. The program they've been targeting focuses on getting enough ridership to cover operating costs, but that's not necessarily the best overall balance. But still, if we've got six airline round-trips each day now, plus a good deal of virtually non-stop bus/shuttle traffic between the cities, I think the case for a train which makes a few extra stops is pretty good. Perhaps the greatest benefit is to folks in the north metro -- you typically need to go downtown or to the airport to make a bus/shuttle connection to Duluth today. A stop in Fridley or Coon Rapids reduces that hassle quite a bit.

We'll have to see what this summer's ridership study comes up with, though -- it's not certain that they'll make the numbers work again, but the probability is pretty good since the previous estimates were done when gasoline cost about $1.50 per gallon versus today's national average price of $3.69/gal.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby grant1simons2 » August 19th, 2014, 10:31 pm

Membership fees discussed today at the transportation meeting http://youtu.be/_4lOS7jRfis?t=9m12s

Edit: This is actually great info for all of the high speed rail projects

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mulad » August 20th, 2014, 3:16 pm

So they're now going with a $400 to $700 million range for capital cost, which seems lower than what I remember -- including about $100 million for the third-track project between the Northtown rail yard and Coon Creek junction.

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Re: Downtown-to-Downtown Rail Capacity Study

Postby at40man » October 2nd, 2014, 8:50 am

MNdible wrote:Ah, this old chestnut.

Let's allow which station people want to board at be the deciding factor, not which location has a fancy old building. Just because we blew saved and repurposed one of the last remaining grand city depots in the nation for a quarter billion of our limited transit dollars on doesn't mean that we should force people to use it, convenience and accessibility be damned.
Fixed it. Logically, there are hard capacity limits and extremely limited expansion capabilities at TFS, so it means we have to prioritize what actually uses that station. TFS is simply better suited to being a local travel hub than it is for a regional travel hub. If I have to wait for a long distance train or transfer trains, I'd rather do it at SPUD. Which is why downtown-to-downtown rail makes sense -- let the folks board in Minneapolis and shuttle them to the Twin Cities' real "Grand Central" train station which provides plenty of future expansion capabilities, direct access to main lines, as well as the predictable stops for ZipRail (which has already ruled out a Mpls stop) and HSR to Chicago. Plus, the MSP airport can easily connect to SPUD, which is an absolutely vital link if we wish to be serious about rail transit.
silophant wrote:I suspect at40man may have been talking about NLX
Yes, that is what I meant. Minneapolis should be the end-point of NLX, but via St Paul.

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Re: Downtown-to-Downtown Rail Capacity Study

Postby mattaudio » October 2nd, 2014, 9:10 am

at40man wrote:Minneapolis should be the end-point of NLX, but via St Paul.
The barrier there is that trackage no longer exists direct from St. Paul north towards Duluth.

There used to be the NP Skally Line to Duluth via Old 61 (through Hinckley) but tracks are removed between Hugo and North Branch, and south of 694 (the Vento Trail, not that this section is a big deal, since trains could easily turn onto CP at White Bear Lake.

Another option would be the ex-SOO right of way, but that's abandoned - mostly now Gandy Dancer ATV trail - from Dresser to just south of Boylston Jct (where the NLX's host BNSF Hinckley Sub actually hops over to use an old SOO bridge they bought for the Boylston/Superior approach). This is actually a really nice alignment, btw, and it's a shame tracks were ripped out so we can no longer feasibly use it for passenger rail.

Anyways, this is all irrelevant rail-nerd details. I agree with the premise that the train should serve both stations, but by far the most feasible way to do that is to have cabs at both ends of the train, pull into Target Field, have the operator walk the platform, and depart back out the same track towards SPUD.

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Re: Downtown-to-Downtown Rail Capacity Study

Postby holmstar » October 2nd, 2014, 9:29 am

mattaudio wrote:
at40man wrote:Minneapolis should be the end-point of NLX, but via St Paul.
The barrier there is that trackage no longer exists direct from St. Paul north towards Duluth.

There used to be the NP Skally Line to Duluth via Old 61 (through Hinckley) but tracks are removed between Hugo and North Branch, and south of 694 (the Vento Trail, not that this section is a big deal, since trains could easily turn onto CP at White Bear Lake.

Another option would be the ex-SOO right of way, but that's abandoned - mostly now Gandy Dancer ATV trail - from Dresser to just south of Boylston Jct (where the NLX's host BNSF Hinckley Sub actually hops over to use an old SOO bridge they bought for the Boylston/Superior approach). This is actually a really nice alignment, btw, and it's a shame tracks were ripped out so we can no longer feasibly use it for passenger rail.
Would it be an absurd expense to replace the missing tracks? Presumably they were in poor shape before being removed, so would have needed to be significantly upgraded anyway.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mulad » October 2nd, 2014, 10:10 am

Let me yank this conversation over to the NLX thread (from the downtown-to-downtown topic https://forum.streets.mn/posting.php?mode=re ... 80#pr68989 )
holmstar wrote:
mattaudio wrote:
at40man wrote:Minneapolis should be the end-point of NLX, but via St Paul.
The barrier there is that trackage no longer exists direct from St. Paul north towards Duluth.

There used to be the NP Skally Line to Duluth via Old 61 (through Hinckley) but tracks are removed between Hugo and North Branch, and south of 694 (the Vento Trail, not that this section is a big deal, since trains could easily turn onto CP at White Bear Lake.

Another option would be the ex-SOO right of way, but that's abandoned - mostly now Gandy Dancer ATV trail - from Dresser to just south of Boylston Jct (where the NLX's host BNSF Hinckley Sub actually hops over to use an old SOO bridge they bought for the Boylston/Superior approach). This is actually a really nice alignment, btw, and it's a shame tracks were ripped out so we can no longer feasibly use it for passenger rail.
Would it be an absurd expense to replace the missing tracks? Presumably they were in poor shape before being removed, so would have needed to be significantly upgraded anyway.
This question should really be broken down into two or more sections -- the most obvious are from SPUD to White Bear Lake and from WBL or Hugo to North Branch. Much of the southern chunk of the old Skally Line (today often thought of as the Rush Line Corridor) is now the Bruce Vento Trail, between Saint Paul and WBL. It would be possible to rebuild that, though there is also another route available for getting from SPUD to WBL via the Canadian Pacific, mostly running west of I-35E instead of east. There's a junction that would need to have a leg added, and the track isn't the straightest in the world, but using that corridor could reduce construction cost a lot. Even if the segment between St. Paul and WBL were to be rebuilt, there's really only a need to construct about 5 miles of track from Phalen Boulevard to I-694. There used to be a line through Swede Hollow, but there probably isn't a need to rebuild that segment.

It currently looks like tracks end at 140th Street in Hugo, and there is a 25-mile gap between Hugo and North Branch. Most of it is a trail and probably wouldn't be too hard to rebuild if that was all you did. Considering it's a former railroad bed, it wouldn't be all that expensive by itself, but the alignment gets very close to US-61 and has a lot of grade crossings -- realigning the tracks or highway/streets and grade-separating things would drive the cost up a lot.

at40man
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Re: Downtown-to-Downtown Rail Capacity Study

Postby at40man » October 2nd, 2014, 10:21 am

mattaudio wrote:There used to be the NP Skally Line to Duluth via Old 61 (through Hinckley) but tracks are removed between Hugo and North Branch, and south of 694 (the Vento Trail, not that this section is a big deal, since trains could easily turn onto CP at White Bear Lake.
Ahhhhh... I actually biked the full length of the Hardwood Creek-Sunrise Prairie last weekend and was vaguely wondering how trains were traveling from Duluth nowadays. There have been some freight cars that look like they've been abandoned just north of the Bruce Vento trail terminus.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mattaudio » October 2nd, 2014, 10:34 am

The BNSF uses the ex-Great Northern line (which crossed the Skally Line in Hinckley). Superior-Hinckley-Cambridge-Coon Rapids, where it connects to the BNSF Staples Sub at Coon Creek Junction a few miles north of Northtown.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mulad » October 2nd, 2014, 11:05 am

This map shows existing and abandoned track in the corridor (the detail is better in MN than WI): http://www.itoworld.com/map/15?lon=-92. ... creen=true

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mulad » May 4th, 2015, 11:31 am

I dropped in on the Intercity Passenger Rail Forum for the first time in a while today. One of the few interesting things to be reported was that current cost estimates are coming in significantly lower than in the earlier EIS phases. No numbers were tossed around though.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mattaudio » July 9th, 2015, 10:57 am

http://www.startribune.com/woman-fatall ... 312875061/

Woman fatally hit by train in Hinckley is ID'd; man with her made it across tracks

The 36-year-old woman who was fatally hit by a freight train running across tracks in downtown Hinckley was with a friend who made it across just ahead of her, according to her family and authorities.


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