Northern Lights Express

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Northern Lights Express

Postby mulad » June 4th, 2012, 9:57 pm

I think the Northern Lights Express project is finally about ready to release their Environmental Impact Statement. LIDAR mapping of the route (for design and engineering purposes) occurred in April, and they're working on a study of a possible extension loop out to the casino in Hinckley. As far as I know, they're still aiming to reach 30% engineering with existing funds.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby Nick » June 12th, 2012, 4:33 pm

Eat your heart out Anoka County!

http://www.startribune.com/local/north/158641835.html
StarTribune wrote:Anoka County jumps off the express train to Duluth
Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune Updated: June 12, 2012 - 5:10 PM

Plans for the proposed $1 billion passenger-rail line from Minneapolis to Duluth were suddenly thrown off track Tuesday when Anoka County, once a key proponent of the line, withdrew from the alliance supporting it.

Doubting the projected levels of federal and state funding for the line and the line's ability to spur $2 billion in development, the county board voted 4-3 to break from the Northern Lights Express (NLX) after nearly six years of actively supporting the high-speed line.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby woofner » June 13th, 2012, 10:18 am

From the article:
Sivarajah doubted the line could be profitable and said that anyone who thinks it will receive $800 million in federal funds "has got to be kidding."
She apparently thinks that the consultants they paid to analyze this questions were joking when they concluded that the NLX "route meets Federal Rail Administration criteria." The federal funding mechanism for passenger rail, while new, is permanent - all it needs is more money from Congress, which would be all but certain if Republicans hadn't decided to make the non-driving class their political punching bag.
Manzoline cited rail projects of $9.4 billion in New York City, $7.8 billion in Denver and $5.3 billion in Honolulu.
This is embarrassing though, as the Honolulu project certainly was funded by FTA money, not FRA as Northern Lights Express would be. Pretty sure the Denver project was too, although that and NYC I'm less certain about as they both have passenger rail projects.

I'll conclude with a childish dig - as flat as Anoka County is, we shouldn't be surprised when it produces all these Flat Earthers.
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby Lancestar2 » July 9th, 2012, 11:01 am

Sivarajah doubted the line could be profitable and said that anyone who thinks it will receive $800 million in federal funds "has got to be kidding."
um... 13 Trillion in debt a history of excessive spending... and... IT'S THIS project the government will say "oh no! That project is just to expensive for us to invest in!" ...HAHA :lol: oh politics it's so silly!

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mulad » July 13th, 2012, 3:37 pm

For anyone interested in a chance to see the line up toward Duluth as it currently exists, the Friends of the 261 group has begun taking reservations for their annual fall colors trip to Boylston Jct. (a bit south of Superior) and back on October 13th this fall. They divide the train up into coach, first class, and premium class. You'll probably have to bring some food and drink of your own for coach class, though they do have a concession car with hot dogs and sandwiches. First and premium classes get more substantial meals for breakfast and lunch included, plus drinks along the way.

Details a couple screenfuls down the page here: http://261.com/excursions/

There's also a trip on the 14th down the river following the Empire Builder's normal route. It's divided into two segments: Minneapolis to Winona and Winona to La Crescent. Passengers booked just for MPLS-Winona are let off in Winona to get lunch in town and hang out for a few hours as the train goes down to La Crescent and returns.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby MNdible » July 13th, 2012, 3:45 pm

Tempting!

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby Lancestar2 » July 14th, 2012, 12:08 am

mulad wrote:For anyone interested in a chance to see the line up toward Duluth as it currently exists, the Friends of the 261 group has begun taking reservations for their annual fall colors trip to Boylston Jct. (a bit south of Superior) and back on October 13th this fall. They divide the train up into coach, first class, and premium class. You'll probably have to bring some food and drink of your own for coach class, though they do have a concession car with hot dogs and sandwiches. First and premium classes get more substantial meals for breakfast and lunch included, plus drinks along the way.

Details a couple screenfuls down the page here: http://261.com/excursions/

There's also a trip on the 14th down the river following the Empire Builder's normal route. It's divided into two segments: Minneapolis to Winona and Winona to La Crescent. Passengers booked just for MPLS-Winona are let off in Winona to get lunch in town and hang out for a few hours as the train goes down to La Crescent and returns.
does that happen every year? If so then maybe I can plan for 2013 :mrgreen: of course I'd wanna save up for the premium package it sure would make for great 1st ever train ride!

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mulad » August 24th, 2012, 9:18 am

Yeah, they run the trip every year as far as I know. Next year should see the return of the Milwaukee Road 261 steam locomotive as the actual motive power for the train, which has been undergoing a major overhaul for the past few years.

Anyway, Finance & Commerce has a post up talking about how the NLX Alliance, which has been promoting the train and doing the initial studies, is getting ready to hand off the project to Mn/DOT for preliminary engineering in January.

http://finance-commerce.com/2012/08/hop ... to-duluth/

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby Le Sueur » August 24th, 2012, 2:12 pm

Thanks for the update mulad.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby twincitizen » August 24th, 2012, 4:39 pm

I'm going on record as saying this project is a huge waste of money, and I sincerely hope it doesn't get built for at least 30 years, if ever.

Every dollar spent on this Duluth nonsense is a dollar not spent on REAL public transit that gets people to and from work.

I am very very pro-transit, but this line is a joke.

At this point, it won't even be faster than driving, because it is too expensive to make it high-speed. Also, what does one do in Duluth without a car? If you have to rent a car once you arrive, you might as well just drive your own.

I don't want to see another dime spent on this until the 2030 transit network in the Twin Cities is built out.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby Lancestar2 » August 25th, 2012, 7:33 pm

twincitizen wrote:I'm going on record as saying this project is a huge waste of money, and I sincerely hope it doesn't get built for at least 30 years, if ever.

Every dollar spent on this Duluth nonsense is a dollar not spent on REAL public transit that gets people to and from work.

I am very very pro-transit, but this line is a joke.

At this point, it won't even be faster than driving, because it is too expensive to make it high-speed. Also, what does one do in Duluth without a car? If you have to rent a car once you arrive, you might as well just drive your own.

I don't want to see another dime spent on this until the 2030 transit network in the Twin Cities is built out.

Duluth does have a small bus network

http://www.duluthtransit.com/

Although I really don't know much about it I would assume that would allow basic travel through the area plus they have local taxi service too and even have a international airport! Sure the benefits of a HSR line may be low now but over time I think it would be great! Myself personally I would start taking 2-3 weekend trips up north to the lake shore during the summer heat! sure would be fun quick vacation spot! I do have a car but I really don't want to drive all that way so for me personally I think it would be awesome!

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby Le Sueur » August 25th, 2012, 10:16 pm

Lancestar2 wrote:Myself personally I would start taking 2-3 weekend trips up north to the lake shore during the summer heat! sure would be fun quick vacation spot!
I could see a lot of people using a train up north in this fashion actually and it would also be great for UMD students.

I won't argue either way as to the actual build out of the project, but planning is planing, always imperfect and living on estimates for future changes(eg: growth, technology, consumer preference, gov. regulation). Large infrastructure projects can often take decades to plan, but when implemented can often be left in the dust if proper planning isn't done.

Regardless, the whole thing will never fly unless we get high speed ferry service from Duluth to Thunder Bay! :lol:

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby FISHMANPET » August 25th, 2012, 10:52 pm

I would also take more trips up to Duluth if I could hop a train Friday night and be back into Minneapolis Sunday night. The Downtown is pretty compact, and by the area between Downtown and the Aerial bridge has a lot of hotels and is within walking distance to Downtown.
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby woofner » August 26th, 2012, 9:47 pm

I think Duluth has a pretty good transit system. It has much better coverage than Metro Transit, and the frequency on the line between downtown and West Duluth is really good - I've used it for bus trips lots of times, and I don't think it would be too scary for someone who took a train in the first place. It seems like the routes between UMD and downtown could use a frequency bump, though.

There a couple things to remember when thinking about the half hour time advantage proposed for NLX - first, a half hour is 20% of the 2.5 hour trip time by car between MSP and Duluth. Seems like a significant chunk of the trip time to me, and presumably only grows on summer weekends when I-35 is a parking lot. The other thing is that only two train routes in the US today beat car trip time - one is the Northeast Corridor, which gets a higher modeshare than airlines in the corridor. The other is the Illinois Zephyr, which disconcertingly only carries around 225k passengers a year in a corridor with similar population to NLX, but still has a farebox recovery ratio of 51%, which is more than any light rail line in the Twin Cities will be able to achieve.
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby FISHMANPET » August 27th, 2012, 6:36 am

redisciple wrote:I think Duluth has a pretty good transit system. It has much better coverage than Metro Transit, and the frequency on the line between downtown and West Duluth is really good - I've used it for bus trips lots of times, and I don't think it would be too scary for someone who took a train in the first place. It seems like the routes between UMD and downtown could use a frequency bump, though.

There a couple things to remember when thinking about the half hour time advantage proposed for NLX - first, a half hour is 20% of the 2.5 hour trip time by car between MSP and Duluth. Seems like a significant chunk of the trip time to me, and presumably only grows on summer weekends when I-35 is a parking lot. The other thing is that only two train routes in the US today beat car trip time - one is the Northeast Corridor, which gets a higher modeshare than airlines in the corridor. The other is the Illinois Zephyr, which disconcertingly only carries around 225k passengers a year in a corridor with similar population to NLX, but still has a farebox recovery ratio of 51%, which is more than any light rail line in the Twin Cities will be able to achieve.
You seem like you'd know better than to compare inter city to intra city rail.
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby MNdible » August 27th, 2012, 9:15 am

FISHMANPET wrote:I would also take more trips up to Duluth if I could hop a train Friday night and be back into Minneapolis Sunday night. The Downtown is pretty compact, and by the area between Downtown and the Aerial bridge has a lot of hotels and is within walking distance to Downtown.
I'd also imagine that, in the event of NLX service, the Canal Park and Downtown hotels would run a shuttle van service to pick people up at the station. They'd probably even set up package deals to include train fare and a room.

So, yes, I'm sure that NLX would be busy on summer weekends. I'm just doubtful it would justify itself the rest of the year. (This coming from a serious Duluth backer.)

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mulad » August 27th, 2012, 1:58 pm

I don't understand the intercity vs. intracity comment -- The NLX is supposed to be more of an intercity service, likely operated by or at least branded as Amtrak. Amtrak used to run a train on the line until 1985. Toward the end, it was a once-daily service in the summer but only ran on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from October to April. It took 3-1/2 hours to make the trip -- not much competition for a car, though I suspect there have been plenty of bus services over the years which have had schedules like that.

It probably wouldn't cost all that much to simply restore the old service -- Back in 2006, it was claimed that it would only cost $89 million. There is something to be said for slow, minimal services -- it wouldn't attract enough riders to be free from annual subsidies, but the overall cost would be a lot less. The current proposals for an 8x-daily train put the price tag around $750 million -- You can subsidize a slow, infrequent train indefinitely for that cost differential, but this is a route that has been shut down for much less. It was once put on the chopping block over a paltry $27,000 deficit. A faster train would attract far more riders, though.

But it's also worth pointing out that this service is aiming for funding from a Federal Railroad Administration program that would pay 80% of the cost. The overall outlay for the state and local governments will probably be around $160 million, not much more than what it cost the state for Northstar (which only received about a 50% match).

Anyway, to address redisciple's point, the Illinois Zephyr only has two daily round trips over the entire route (the second daily train is called the Carl Sandburg). A little over 60% of the route is shared with the long-distance California Zephyr and Southwest Chief trains, which confuses things a bit. They could be cannibalizing riders, though Amtrak sometimes shifts things around, so that 225k number could be the actual ridership in the whole corridor.

The closest analog in the Amtrak system to a potential NLX train is probably the Boston-to-Portland Downeaster. It has 5 daily roundtrips on a somewhat shorter corridor (116 miles vs. 150), though the travel time is about 25 minutes longer than driving would be (at least in free-flowing conditions). That carries 520k passengers per year, and has a 65% farebox ratio (assuming this is the source redisciple used).

The Northern Lights Express would probably need to carry 750k passengers per year to break even, at least according to this 2007 study. It might work with fewer passengers if the frequency was only 6x or 4x daily -- Maybe that would work for seasonal variation in ridership. It's hard to say whether they'd actually achieve that level, since I think the fares would be higher than what the Downeaster charges (probably $35 one-way vs. $20 or so). People might be discouraged by that, but then again, the distance is longer and it'd be faster and more frequent.

At this particular moment, I only think there's a 50/50 chance it could fully live up to the projections. But even if it falls a bit short of projections, my sense is that the subsidy would end up being similar to what it'd cost to fund just a single slow train each day...

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby Matt » August 27th, 2012, 6:37 pm

I think Duluth has a pretty good transit system. It has much better coverage than Metro Transit, and the frequency on the line between downtown and West Duluth is really good - I've used it for bus trips lots of times, and I don't think it would be too scary for someone who took a train in the first place. It seems like the routes between UMD and downtown could use a frequency bump, though.

There a couple things to remember when thinking about the half hour time advantage proposed for NLX - first, a half hour is 20% of the 2.5 hour trip time by car between MSP and Duluth. Seems like a significant chunk of the trip time to me, and presumably only grows on summer weekends when I-35 is a parking lot. The other thing is that only two train routes in the US today beat car trip time - one is the Northeast Corridor, which gets a higher modeshare than airlines in the corridor. The other is the Illinois Zephyr, which disconcertingly only carries around 225k passengers a year in a corridor with similar population to NLX, but still has a farebox recovery ratio of 51%, which is more than any light rail line in the Twin Cities will be able to achieve.
The Amtrak Hiawatha route from Milwaukee to Chicago also beats car time. Amtrak takes about 90 minutes to go downtown to downtown while driving is around 2 hours or more with traffic.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby woofner » August 28th, 2012, 11:23 am

Thanks Mulad for those details. I have no idea where I dreamed up those numbers in my earlier post.
FISHMANPET wrote:You seem like you'd know better than to compare inter city to intra city rail.
Realistically policymakers need to be able to compare different types of service and different modes. Farebox recovery ratio is the best universal metric I've seen for transit, but it is certainly imperfect and doesn't really work to compare other modes.
Matt wrote:The Amtrak Hiawatha route from Milwaukee to Chicago also beats car time. Amtrak takes about 90 minutes to go downtown to downtown while driving is around 2 hours or more with traffic.
Hiawatha only beats freeway time by 10 minutes when it's not congested (which maybe is never). There are a handful of the state-supported routes that come within 15 minutes plus or minus freeway time but the majority of them are much slower than driving.
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby Matt » August 28th, 2012, 6:42 pm

I think getting from downtown MKE to downtown Chicago is usually going to take more than 2 hours. There is almost always pretty serious traffic getting into the Loop if you go plus or minus 2 hours of rush hour. The train will destroy driving during peak periods.


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