Northern Lights Express

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

Postby VacantLuxuries » February 23rd, 2016, 4:31 pm

Not that I don't see your point, but what is there to really serve in Hinckley, if not the casino?

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby grant1simons2 » February 23rd, 2016, 4:37 pm

The fire museum of course.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby MNdible » February 23rd, 2016, 4:39 pm

If it were equally easy to serve both the Casino and downtown Hinckley, then I'd say, sure, serve the casino directly. But it's not.

The existing mainline runs right through downtown. It would be a matter of adding a simple siding to the existing ROW.

Serving the casino directly would require, by my estimation: acquiring a bunch of new ROW, laying a bunch of new track, a new crossing of I-35, and a new bridge over the Grindstone River.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby VacantLuxuries » February 23rd, 2016, 4:55 pm

Sure, I won't argue with that. The study will ultimately determine if the additional costs to serve the casino directly are worth the effort, and if it's not, the discussion pretty much ends there. The mainline route would serve the town and casino, in one way or another.

I think if the obstacles to directly serving the casino aren't insurmountable, it helps justify the line. Like others have said, many will look at the drive time and rail time and consider the difference negligible. A mode transfer penalty at a major draw along the line is not going to help with that perception. Despite the mainline being an easier solution, what does downtown Hinckley really offer the NLX?

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby MNdible » February 23rd, 2016, 5:08 pm

I haven't seen any routing, so I'm not sure exactly where the Casino Loop would go, but I'm guessing they're not going to cut it through the middle of their vast parking lot, so you're probably not talking about stepping off the train and straight into the casino. So you're either looking at a significant walk, or a (slightly shorter than from downtown Hinckley) shuttle ride.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby VacantLuxuries » February 23rd, 2016, 5:17 pm

I would think the more likely routing would be along Hinckley Road, nearer to the hotel side. Since the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe would have to be deeply involved in any Hinckley Loop option, a station there would be easy to connect into the building with a skyway. More cost up front, but less involved than owning, operating, and maintaining a shuttle service.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby Zaptons67 » February 23rd, 2016, 5:18 pm

not much developable land in downtown Hinckley. It don't seem to have much potential to develop into something. Plus I'm sure IF there was a shuttle to the Casino the times would at best allow for 15min layovers. So maybe visitors could explore downtown Hinckley for 12 min? That is unless the locals have a big demand for usage of the train, which seems unlikely given the low population size. I do think Nice Ride could have some really good potential here. Provided the biking trails and lanes are expanded, a few nice ride stations in downtown Hinckley and one at the Casino funded by the Casino could be a nice. The community could have access to the train station during good weather by bike and visitors could explore downtown Hinckley. Granted the Casino would have to mostly fund the project but I think they would benefit greatly with being able to attract more visitors by the added amenity. Except Hinckley does NOT have a good biking network so I doubt that idea would get very far. Would be nice for us Nice Rider users!

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mulad » February 23rd, 2016, 7:29 pm

Regarding the speed, it's always been disheartening to me how this route has been gradually slowing down over time, though this would still be an improvement over what Amtrak used to have on this route in the early '80s -- that service only averaged about 50 mph. Today's Empire Builder is scheduled for 53-54 mph from St. Paul to Chicago. On days when it is able to eat up the 30 minutes of padding between Milwaukee and Chicago (which is happening pretty often lately), it's a bit more like 56 or 57 -- that's a speed which manages to beat Megabus, which only stops once along the way to pick up or drop off passengers (though there is at least one other stop for a restroom/food break). This also still compares well to existing airport shuttle services between Duluth and MSP, though I'd prefer they went back to an 8x daily/110-mph plan.

As for room for development in downtown Hinckley, there's plenty of space. Their Main Street only has a few 2-story buildings, and there are empty parcels and some pretty large parking lots within a couple blocks. An incredible amount of stuff can fit within a 5-minute walk of the station area if we just let it.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby talindsay » February 23rd, 2016, 10:56 pm

I don't know, I heard that Chicago to Minneapolis Megabus route is on fire lately.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby twinkess » February 24th, 2016, 8:00 am

Aww man, no rim-shot emoji? :lol:

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby QuietBlue » February 24th, 2016, 8:43 am

I don't know, I heard that Chicago to Minneapolis Megabus route is on fire lately.
Yeah, it's really blowing up.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby RailBaronYarr » February 24th, 2016, 9:49 am

I'll second Mike's comment that downtown Hinckley is not lacking for space or developable lots. Will a station with 4 trains stopping in each direction be enough to spur development? Maybe that's a stretch, but it'd have to be >0, right?

Anyway, Mike wrote a post 3.5 years ago on the casino routing with a nice graphic of the different options (though they differ from the graphics on the project's site). To me, given the speed reductions from cost-cutting, a casino loop makes even less sense now if it adds 5+ minutes to the journey. I also have a very hard time believing 400,000 extra people a year would ride the train to Hinckley if it stopped directly at the casino vs it stopping in downtown Hinckley. We'll wait for the final study that details costs, ridership a bit more, but I have to believe paying somebody $35k/yr to drive a shuttle bus to/from downtown 4-8x daily would cost less than 30 years worth of paying for extra track to the casino.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby seanrichardryan » February 24th, 2016, 10:11 am

The casino already has a fleet of small buses they use to transport guests from the outlying chalets, RV park and golf courses. It runs 24/7. They would need to add maybe a 1 mi. onto that route to add service to a downtown train station, for far less money.
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mattaudio » February 24th, 2016, 10:41 am

If anything, I see more opportunity with a Hinckley Downtown station rather than a casino loop: It could set the stage for Downtown Hinckley to intensify and become a walkable tourist destination that compliments- rather than competes- with the casino. There are plenty of us who would rather stay in a walkable (charming, touristy, whatev) environment within 90 minutes of the metro, and the current strip of Casino hotels do not count. They don't compare to Red Wing, Northfield, St. Peter, etc. But if I could take the train up there to a walkable downtown, I'd consider it - I'd even consider take a shuttle over to the casino for a few hours, and I'm not a casino person.

All without the expense of 5+ miles of new right of way, new trackage, and a new crossing of I-35.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby VacantLuxuries » February 24th, 2016, 10:54 am

I'll second Mike's comment that downtown Hinckley is not lacking for space or developable lots. Will a station with 4 trains stopping in each direction be enough to spur development? Maybe that's a stretch, but it'd have to be >0, right?
I don't think the train will be fast or frequent enough for anyone to consider using it to commute to Minneapolis (or Duluth, for that matter). The cost per ride probably wouldn't help on that front either. The best hope would be that a train connection to MSP would allow a company to set up shop in Hinckley and still have airport access through transit. But any company looking for an infrequent transit connection to the airport already has plenty of greenfield sites to choose from surrounding every Northstar station north of Anoka, so that's really wishful thinking.

Relying on a shuttle wouldn't be as big of a problem if the casino was further up the line. I imagine Fond Du Luth will be operating a shuttle from the station to the downtown casino, and if there was a station relatively close to the Black Bear casino the same would be true. If you're planning on a two hour trip already, a ten minute wait for a shuttle wouldn't be too much. Hinckley isn't far enough away that offering a train and shuttle would be a draw away from driving.

Ultimately if the 2007 report cited in Mike's post is accurate, we should build the line to whatever is drawing 8 million trips to Hinckley a year. It isn't the fire museum. Believe me, I'd rather see the train stop through walkable downtowns and connect actual places that aren't inherently predatory. But I'd also like to see this built and succeed in order to silence voices that claim intercity transit isn't doable. It is, but if we follow railroad tracks that connected 1800s destinations instead of 21st century ones, we're not going to change anyone's mind.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mattaudio » February 24th, 2016, 11:22 am

For this to succeed, it needs to be a good value for what we're spending on. Spending tens of millions of dollars to shave a few minutes off a small subset of users headed to a single destination in the middle of the line - at the expense of speed between larger cities at both ends - means we'd be spending more money for worse performance.

Also, let's remember that comparing a minute of driving time to a minute of non-driving time is not equivalent. Most people would - all else equal - be on a train for 90 minutes reading or napping rather than be behind a steering wheel for 70 minutes. A transfer to a free 10 minute shuttle ride after a relaxing train journey is not. a. big. deal.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby VacantLuxuries » February 24th, 2016, 11:31 am

Most people would - all else equal - be on a train for 90 minutes reading or napping rather than be behind a steering wheel for 70 minutes.
This gets thrown around a lot. I think everyone here agrees with this. But I lived most of my life in Anoka and Washington Counties, and the people who get really jazzed about a weekend at Grand Casino are also the types who, when I say that I'd rather take a train to work than drive, almost always reply "Really? I like driving."

These are the voices that will most loudly complain about transit spending, though will begrudgingly admit that the light rail is convenient when they attend a sporting event. If you can change a few "No more boondoggle!" voices to "Well, if we can make it practical" voices in public discourse, getting obvious transit investments passed will become easier. The crowd already taking shuttle buses to the casino aren't going to care either way, it's those who would rather drive and don't see the point of the NLX at all that are worth converting.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby mattaudio » February 24th, 2016, 11:37 am

It looks like you're the only person defending the casino diversion, so I'm not going to keep responding to convert a single person.

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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby seanrichardryan » February 24th, 2016, 12:22 pm

Hey, and with a few more infrastructure improvements, guests could even WALK to the casino from the station.
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Re: Northern Lights Express

Postby jebr » February 24th, 2016, 3:43 pm

Hey, and with a few more infrastructure improvements, guests could even WALK to the casino from the station.
From the downtown station? I highly doubt it. Google shows a 2.3 mile walk. I may want to do that in a scenic area with no luggage one way, but not both ways with luggage. Most people who currently drive cars wouldn't accept that either. They may accept a shuttle bus if it's convenient, but even then you're losing passengers to a transfer penalty (especially since, unless they're walking to the NLX station, they've already had to either drive to the station or take transit to the station.)

As much as a downtown station would be better from an urban development and walkability perspective, we'll probably see more traffic with a casino station, even if that adds a few minutes to the overall travel time from MSP to Duluth. Whether the math works out, I'm not sure. But if (either through increased revenue in train tickets or subsidy from the casino) it becomes equivalent, it would seem to make sense to route it via the casino.


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