Northstar Commuter Rail

Roads - Rails - Sidewalks - Bikeways
RailBaronYarr
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Re: Northstar

Postby RailBaronYarr » May 20th, 2013, 4:53 pm

UptownSport wrote:The opposite could be said-
Lets increase Transit fares 'til people can't afford them and have to use their cars-
This makes exactly as much sense.

I use transit A LOT but I don't have to pay for it-
If I did, I'd just use my car, it's far, far cheaper, and radically faster.
(there's usually no one dealing drugs in it, nor do I have to hide my little dogs in my backpack!)

I'm just not ready to pressure people into transit- Right or as wrong as it might be, and hearing others talk about it makes me even more uncomfortable.

**I AM willing to pay more taxes so my neighbors can get around on something that makes sense**
Except the argument you make doesn't include hundreds of billions to trillions in subsidy (direct and indirect) to keep a dependent land-use pattern afloat. This isn't about artificially raising the price of driving, it's about removing the artificial price suppression to reveal auto's true cost. And if done right (including appropriate carbon taxes in our system that increase the cost of electricity that runs our LRTs as well as gasoline emissions in our cars), the true cost of transit would ALSO present itself, making biking and walking viable economic choices as well. I'm not advocating for continuing to subsidize the operating cost of transit - indeed if that is the "low bar" for transportation choice, we're missing 2 whole segments that many people throughout the world use and require much less infrastructure (bike/walk). But I guarantee that if externalities were taken in to account as much as possible, the price of driving would increase substantially more than the price of using transit.

**In our current development pattern there are nearly no places that transit makes sense, regardless of if we subsidize it through tax money. The fact that transit needs subsidy today is not a failure of transit's inherent inability to break even (a market failure), more a failure of land-use patterns. If we did the latter correctly but there were still groups of the population that could not afford transit, then we could subsidize their demand (rather than the supply), which would undoubtedly cost less than what we're currently doing. And I personally have no problem with using tax money for that**

ECtransplant
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Re: Northstar

Postby ECtransplant » May 20th, 2013, 8:14 pm

Driving a car involves negative externalities that taking transit either does not, or does not to the same degree.

UptownSport
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Re: Northstar

Postby UptownSport » May 20th, 2013, 9:28 pm

Really? That much subsidy? But so what? We subsidize babies and children, too. They have a big carbon footprint.
The car has, in itself, produced industry so massive that it's reach probably couldn't be calculated.
Our autos and components reach all over the globe.

And now it's our land use, too, that's all wrong?

I'm finding the 'wrongs' of the most successful country' thus far alot far fetched.

And a DC Metro style corridor from the densest South urban area, thru Minneapolis, to the densest North Urban area doesn't make sense?
People were nearly packed 'Army tight' when I rode the 19- 5 is packed, 6 and 4 also.
It'd make total sense to put premium transit where people can't drive, and leave the suburbs to their master.

Suburban Outcast
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Re: Northstar

Postby Suburban Outcast » May 21st, 2013, 12:53 am

We should just build things on a smaller scale within close distances of basic necessities and places of employment, to promote walking, biking, rollerblading, segwaying (if you are a mall cop), etc. Even in places like Big Lake and Elk River. I wish they would condense suburban commercial districts into actual Main Street-esque downtowns if people honestly want a small-town feel. And then transit could be easier to plan out, and they could limit the need for massive and expensive parking ramps like in Ramsey if more people would be able to walk or bike to the station.

While I know a couple of the cities along Northstar have a Main Street/downtown, they are like my mother's hometown Hibbing, where the businesses seem to keep outsourcing to the outskirts of the town in strip malls along Highway 169. Though Hibbing still at least has quite a few local based (Zimmy's, Sportsman) or small chain (Sammy's Pizza) restaurants still around in their downtown area. If Hibbing was the size of St. Cloud I would say there should be a regional rail link along to Range Cities to Duluth. If only the exurban Northstar cities had the same grid street layouts seen in the Range Cities.

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Andrew_F
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Re: Northstar

Postby Andrew_F » May 21st, 2013, 8:07 am

I've often thought that the perfect development pattern to meet the desires of Americans while being responsible with our land use and infrastructure is not unlike that which follows the Ohio River northwest out of Pittsburgh. As you head out of the city, for well over an hour, there is a continuous string of smaller manufacturing towns that blend into one another, almost all the way to the WV/OH border. These towns have dense older downtowns, not too unlike some of the larger river towns here in the midwest, and have lower density development as you head away from the river, but along the river it is nearly a string of relatively dense older downtowns continuing for some 60 miles. This development pattern seems to support healthy downtowns and relatively dense development while still allowing access to the open spaces that (like it or not) a lot of Americans really have their hearts set on. As to why there's not a commuter line running along the Ohio through here, I have no idea. I can't help but wonder what this area would be like if it hadn't been so economically depressed for the past 50 years-- perhaps it could truly be an example of what to do right. I feel like one could take a look at the sense of place that is brought by this and merge it with some efficiency improvements to create something pretty cool.

RailBaronYarr
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Re: Northstar

Postby RailBaronYarr » May 21st, 2013, 8:48 am

UptownSport wrote:Really? That much subsidy? But so what? We subsidize babies and children, too. They have a big carbon footprint.
The car has, in itself, produced industry so massive that it's reach probably couldn't be calculated.
Our autos and components reach all over the globe.

And now it's our land use, too, that's all wrong?

I'm finding the 'wrongs' of the most successful country' thus far alot far fetched.
I have no idea what babies and children being subsidized (in what way, other than education) has in relation to subsidizing people's preference to own a car, have a bigger house, and a bigger lawn. I'm not saying those things aren't preferences or desires that many people all across the world share. But people across the world also share a desire to have a smart phone. Yet we don't mandate that every new house that gets built comes with one, nor do we subsidize the ownership of one with tax credits at the end of the year, or any other method of subsidy we do in support of our land use patterns. We don't do this with lobster dinner or anything else that is a luxury, nice to have.

It's produced an industry so large that we even had to bail it out to keep it afloat!

Your definition of success must rely strictly on GDP per capita and ignores the methods by which we have become so successful that are starting to fall apart.

In any case, great for Northstar on the ridership. Hopefully people continue riding it and find that there aren't drug dealers or dog thieves aboard and realize transit isn't such a bad way to get around and start making shifts toward alternative lifestyles.

mulad
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Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » June 4th, 2013, 8:37 am

And now I'm going to be grumpy because of $265 million in planned changes along U.S. 10 right where the Northstar line runs through Ramsey.

http://finance-commerce.com/2013/06/mom ... rovements/

Now let's see, Northstar had a total budget of $320 million for construction, but $30-40 million of that went to the Hiawatha LRT extension, and another $100 million went to BNSF just for easement rights. Oh and then I'm sure almost half of the remainder went into purchasing the rolling stock (I mean, we never include the cost of cars in highway construction costs, do we?). So we really paid somewhere around $100 million for track improvements along the 39-mile route. And here we want to spend $265 million on a distance of 4 or 5 miles.

U.S. 10 does suck through that area, and there are probably legitimate safety issues. Although the first things that pop into my mind when I think safety in the U.S. 10 corridor in that area is pedestrian access -- whenever I drive up that way, there always seems to be someone running across the highway somewhere in the middle, since it's still stuck in the "stroad" category with businesses aligned along it. And I get even more annoyed with a comment in the F&C piece by a developer who says they have a big-box retailer, a company that wants a 180,000-sf headquarters building, and a distribution center on the south side of the highway once an interchange is built. Sprawl pretty much defined right there.

mattaudio
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Re: Northstar

Postby mattaudio » June 4th, 2013, 8:51 am

There was just an article last week in the SC Times where St. Cloud was upset that no improvements to 10 or 94 were programmed in the next 25+ years.

Suburban Outcast
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Re: Northstar

Postby Suburban Outcast » June 4th, 2013, 8:56 am

Doesn't the inter-regional corridor (new TH 24 freeway), improvements/upgrades in Elk River, Ramsey, Anoka, etc count as improvements to US 10 and I-94 since those are bound to happen by 2038? Yeah maybe lanes won't expand, but even the recent resurfacing of TH 10 between St. Cloud and Anoka County counts as an improvement to me.

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Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » June 4th, 2013, 9:13 am

mattaudio wrote:There was just an article last week in the SC Times where St. Cloud was upset that no improvements to 10 or 94 were programmed in the next 25+ years.
Yeah, to them these are metro area projects. I presume the Times thinks that 10 and 94 need 6 lanes all the way to St. Cloud, which they don't.

at40man
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Re: Northstar

Postby at40man » June 4th, 2013, 9:39 am

mulad wrote:$100 million went to BNSF just for easement rights.
"JUST" easement rights? That's BNSF's property, not to mention quite a busy freight line as well. Are you suggesting BN shouldn't receive money to have additional trains on their own rail line that doesn't directly benefit their company?

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Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » June 19th, 2013, 10:08 pm

Some shots of the parking ramp construction at Anoka.

Image

Image

talindsay
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Re: Northstar

Postby talindsay » June 20th, 2013, 7:27 am

at40man wrote:
mulad wrote:$100 million went to BNSF just for easement rights.
"JUST" easement rights? That's BNSF's property, not to mention quite a busy freight line as well. Are you suggesting BN shouldn't receive money to have additional trains on their own rail line that doesn't directly benefit their company?
You're right, but I want to point out that the citizens of the US *gave* the railroads that land - for free - and granted them imminent domain powers usually reserved for government entities, also for free. And they gave them swaths of land much wider than the necessary ROW, which they then sold off to developers and which made the railroads filthy rich. They were *given* the land by the government and now they *charge* the government to buy back partial use of the improvements they made. I'm actually okay with this arrangement, but I think the railroads need to be very accommodating, and very appreciative of the fact that when they start asserting their *rights*, those rights all flowed from the people of the country.

And the people of the US gave them that land explicitly for reasons that don't directly benefit the company - the companies were set up to profit heavily as a way of achieving a public good, not a private one.

mattaudio
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Re: Northstar

Postby mattaudio » June 20th, 2013, 8:34 am

At least BNSF is a lot more friendly to hosting passenger operations than Union Pacific. But yes, I think the idea of handing over cash for easements isn't the ideal solution. I'd rather see that cash for easements go towards investing in capacity improvements that will help both freight and passenger rail on the host corridor. For example a third main north to Coon Creek Junction, or double tracking the Staples Sub from Big Lake to Becker, or dealing with bottlenecks on the CP/BNSF main from St. Paul to Hastings.

At one time, many of these railroad mainlines were quad-tracked with two tracks reserved for passenger and fast freight use.

gahwi003
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Re: Northstar

Postby gahwi003 » June 20th, 2013, 11:29 am

Ya I have family who works for BNSF, and believe me, $100 million is cheap. Alevery second the track window is taken up, the company loses money. Not to mention the liability the railroad would have if a derailment (surprisingly not that isolated) hit a commuter line.

Tcmetro
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Re: Northstar

Postby Tcmetro » June 20th, 2013, 11:46 am

Some new ridership information in the CTIB meeting packet. April averaged 2,921 per day, and May was 2,850 per day. About 400-500 higher than in 2010, so that's good.

http://www.mnrides.org/sites/default/fi ... outs_2.pdf, page 42

at40man
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Re: Northstar

Postby at40man » June 20th, 2013, 1:41 pm

talindsay wrote:
at40man wrote:
mulad wrote:$100 million went to BNSF just for easement rights.
"JUST" easement rights? That's BNSF's property, not to mention quite a busy freight line as well. Are you suggesting BN shouldn't receive money to have additional trains on their own rail line that doesn't directly benefit their company?
You're right, but I want to point out that the citizens of the US *gave* the railroads that land - for free - and granted them imminent domain powers usually reserved for government entities, also for free. And they gave them swaths of land much wider than the necessary ROW, which they then sold off to developers and which made the railroads filthy rich. They were *given* the land by the government and now they *charge* the government to buy back partial use of the improvements they made. I'm actually okay with this arrangement, but I think the railroads need to be very accommodating, and very appreciative of the fact that when they start asserting their *rights*, those rights all flowed from the people of the country.

And the people of the US gave them that land explicitly for reasons that don't directly benefit the company - the companies were set up to profit heavily as a way of achieving a public good, not a private one.
I don't think it works to hold freight railroads hostage with the "public good" argument. Freight railroads exist to make a profit - and there is nothing wrong with that. We all benefit because they are making profits. Unfortunately, government has a bad history of putting in place well-intentioned laws that nearly drove private freight railroads out of business. Even recently they forced railroads to spend billions of dollars to save a few lives a year, when that money could've been used on more urgent and necessary projects.
All-in-all, I'm grateful that BNSF is willing to run the North Star on such a busy line! Too bad it doesn't connect to St Cloud.
Last edited by at40man on June 20th, 2013, 1:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

mulad
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Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » June 20th, 2013, 1:41 pm

Averaging across 12 trips, that works out to 237 per train for May.

Regarding the easement, I've always heard BNSF's price was higher than what was expected by transit planners, but the traffic density does play a big role. There were some notes about that in MnDOT's State Rail Plan from a couple of years back.

BNSF's stated policy is that transit agencies must pay for rail improvements so that added passenger service does not impinge upon existing freight capacity. Very little new track was built for Northstar -- the maintenance facility and station track at Big Lake, station track at Target Field, and a few changes to switch alignments here and there. Capacity appears to have been improved by upgrading signals along the route, and it seems that speeds were also increased in some areas (I think trains go significantly faster on the mainline through Northtown Yard than they used to). I've seen some track along the route stamped with the year 2006, so I think some track was replaced, though I don't know how much.

I've always figured that the capacity improvements came from the non-easement portion of the capital cost, though I've always wondered if that was strictly true or not. Still, it never made much sense to me for the Met Council and friends to pay for infrastructure improvements and then also get hit with the easement charge. But what do I know -- up until that happened I'd always figured that rail lines operated much like toll roads, with a charge per train, but that's not the way they do things in the US.

talindsay
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Re: Northstar

Postby talindsay » June 21st, 2013, 8:13 am

So reading the CTIB report for the July meeting, it's revealed that Northstar collected ~$2.6M in passenger revenue in 2012 and cost ~$14.0M to operate, for a per-ride (they say per-passenger) subsidy of $19.47. For comparison, Hiawatha collected ~$10.3M in passenger revenue and cost ~$26.9M to operate, for a subsidy of $1.59. To me this raises the obvious question: why should we tarnish the excellent numbers of urban transit for the sake of hauling a small number of suburbanites great distances and subsidizing their choice to live in far-flung suburbs? I mean really, almost $20 subsidy per ride on a line that's four years old seems pretty ridiculous.

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Re: Northstar

Postby David Greene » June 21st, 2013, 9:10 am

talindsay wrote:I mean really, almost $20 subsidy per ride on a line that's four years old seems pretty ridiculous.
And that is why we aren't going to see more commuter rail for a very long time.


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