Northstar Commuter Rail

Roads - Rails - Sidewalks - Bikeways
mattaudio
Stone Arch Bridge
Posts: 7936
Joined: June 19th, 2012, 2:04 pm
Location: NORI: NOrth of RIchfield

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby mattaudio » July 18th, 2014, 9:07 pm

I've said it before so I won't get into too much detail here, but the answer is to really rebrand Northstar as regional rail rather than commuter rail.
1. Express buses do a fine job of moving commuters downtown at rush hour.
2. We've spent a bunch of money on rolling stock and staff that's not used efficiently, mostly morning and afternoon.
3. If Northstar became a regional brand, we could use our existing rolling stock much much more.
4. Ideally, all services would connect to both Mpls and SPUD.
5. We could possibly interline services to provide even more efficiency and one seat rides.

Most importantly, Northstar as regional rail rather than commuter rail suddenly reframes the value of the service. It's no longer an expensive way to hypothetically move some people from occupying freeway lanes to occupying park and rides. Suddenly it becomes a way to effectively connect regional destination centers such as St. Cloud, and the small towns in between.

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2802
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby mulad » July 18th, 2014, 11:39 pm

Yeah, as I was mentioning in the Red Line thread, my ideal transit line has good frequency of service, good hours of service, and good stop locations in combination with a proper mix of population and useful destinations. I'm not quite sure what the consultants were smoking when they came up with the plans for Northstar in terms of frequency and span of service -- it's not a way to run something in a cost-efficient way. They might also be to blame for the odd station locations, though that probably happened in combination with the fairly conservative city governments along the route who probably don't want "those people" in their towns (despite the fact that a lot of Northstar ridership is from highly-paid downtown workers).

The biggest issue with the operating cost has got to be related to the small number of runs each day compared to the size of the vehicle fleet. Four trains make six round-trips, so it's an average of 1.5 round-trips per train per day -- only about 75 minutes of in-service operation per day per train. According to the National Transit Database, the line had expenses of $16.4 million in 2012, with $2.6 million in fare revenue. I took a peek at the numbers for Salt Lake City, which somehow manages to have expenses of $20 million that same year, despite having 4.25 times as many vehicle revenue hours. (Despite that, somehow they only pulled in $2.7 million in fare revenue -- their fares must be pretty cheap!) They're probably an outlier, but I'm not sure why -- a lot of their equipment is virtually the same as ours.

So what can we do to add more hours of service while limiting the growth of operating costs? What would it cost to bring us up to the point of having service for 16-20 hours per day, or even just half that much? Could fare revenue or operational cost savings climb enough to cover the capital expense, particularly if you look ahead 10, 20, or 30 years? We'll probably funnel at least $140 million into Northstar over the next decade in operating subsidies. It would be nice to consider spending that money now on capital improvements, since that could reduce the operating subsidy down the line.

Anyway, expanding the hours of service is really important, but we should also consider changing the stations so that they can serve people who don't have cars. It's pretty silly to build a line that you have to drive to, especially since savings on the social cost of parking and other car-related infrastructure is one of the huge ways that public transit provides benefit to its area (a point I was making in this streets.mn post from earlier: https://streets.mn/2014/07/18/transit-bu ... -of-roads/ )

The Elk River station should be moved to be near the town center (about 2 miles northwest), and probably the same for Big Lake (about 1 mile west). A Northeast Minneapolis station or two would probably be good. I'd suggest Lowry Avenue to start, plus maybe something by the Superior Plating site next to University Avenue, or a bit northeast of there at the Central and Broadway bridge. Extending to St. Cloud should be considered, but the tradeoffs of frequency and hours of service need to be looked at carefully. Even if the train isn't brought to St. Cloud at first, that 9-mile gap of single-tracking between Big Lake and Becker probably needs to be fixed in order to avoid having freight trains bunch up on either side of the gap and cause slowdowns for passenger trains.

The per-passenger subsidy for Northstar is probably going to be high for a long time, but don't forget that the passengers are making much longer trips -- the average is about 25 miles, versus only around 5 miles for the Blue Line. I imagine the average travel distance would go down with better service frequency -- it's much easier to hop on and off when trains are running all day. Low-frequency service requires much more planning ahead, or building up a routine.

Matt's idea of repurposing the Northstar train hardware for a regional service could work too, but I prefer the idea of improving the usability of the existing route first while making plans for additional services. I'd definitely like to see a lot of routes branching out from the metro area, but I figure that trying to branch out too soon would easily get bogged down because of endless negotiations with the various railroads to start up those new services.

talindsay
Wells Fargo Center
Posts: 1553
Joined: September 29th, 2012, 10:41 am

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby talindsay » July 19th, 2014, 5:37 am

mulad wrote:Matt's idea of repurposing the Northstar train hardware for a regional service could work too, but I prefer the idea of improving the usability of the existing route first while making plans for additional services. I'd definitely like to see a lot of routes branching out from the metro area, but I figure that trying to branch out too soon would easily get bogged down because of endless negotiations with the various railroads to start up those new services.
Yes, in general I'd love to see regional transit grow out of Northstar, but that will require a lot of political will, and its current disastrous state isn't likely to convince anybody that they should waste political capital on it. For that reason I think it's wiser to see the line as the basket of lemons it is, and try to find the sugar and water to make lemonade rather than trying to turn it into a fruit salad (how's that for stretching a metaphor :lol: ). It would be easy to experiment with extended service patterns and relatively easy to add stations. I think making it more regular-transit-like will bear a better chance of saving its image in the short term, since it would make it useful to more people.

And seriously, if we can't build a basic urban station for one or two million dollars there's something seriously wrong with the world. My mind boggles at the cost of these stations - that's one of the biggest drivers of capital costs on these projects.

Tcmetro
Wells Fargo Center
Posts: 1353
Joined: May 31st, 2012, 8:02 pm
Location: Chicago (ex-Minneapolitan)

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby Tcmetro » July 19th, 2014, 10:20 am

I think the problem with the expense of the stations is the excessive amount of amenities poured into them. Heated shelters, pedestrian overpasses, etc are all frills. All that is needed is an asphalt platform with a ticket machine, a basic shelter, and the PA/electronic message system.

I think adding the Central/University area stop and the Lowry stop will help reverse commuters and university students and are worth a study at least.

User avatar
woofner
Wells Fargo Center
Posts: 1327
Joined: June 1st, 2012, 10:04 am

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby woofner » July 19th, 2014, 11:57 am

I doubt there's a ton more demand for transit to downtown Minneapolis in the northern reaches of NE, but building stops at Lowry and Broadway or so would be a nice upgrade for 17 riders, and could potentially even allow the NE segment of the 17 (which seems to me to be responsible for a lot of the reliability problems with the 17) to be replaced with a crosstown of some sort. Maybe NEers would be more likely to take the Green Line if the first leg of their trip was rail...
"Who rescued whom!"

exiled_antipodean
Landmark Center
Posts: 277
Joined: December 3rd, 2012, 8:20 am

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby exiled_antipodean » July 19th, 2014, 8:11 pm

I concur that adding stations in Northeast could be effective. The train is going pretty slowly through NE, so the time penalty for braking, dwelling, accelerating would be pretty minor in the scheme of things for people getting on up the line.

There looks to be room near Lowry to add a basic station by 7th St NE, but Broadway would be more challenging, since the line is grade separated there. Vertical circulation would make a station more expensive.

Because the grid is pretty complete in NE walkable access would be pretty good for a half-mile radius.

xandrex
Wells Fargo Center
Posts: 1358
Joined: January 30th, 2013, 11:14 am

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby xandrex » July 19th, 2014, 11:42 pm

If NE gets a station, I think it only makes sense to put it in the densest portion (and an area that is growing and has a lot of amenities) - we have a bunch of free space at 1st and University with the Superior Plating site leveled. Why not push for a walk-up station as part of the project? Seems like it could be done fairly cheaply, especially in conjunction with another project.

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2802
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby mulad » July 20th, 2014, 12:23 am

Hopefully the existing grade separations can be used in place of new pedestrian bridges/tunnels, and they'd just have to worry about how to get people from street level up or down to the platform. I think ramps would probably work fine in some cases, which would remove the cost of elevators. I suppose the simplest option by Lowry would be to put the station in the diagonal segment between Lowry Avenue (which carries route 32 buses) and Washington Street (carrying route 17). You need 425 feet for a standard-sized Northstar platform, and it looks like the distance from the near sides of those streets is 635 feet, so there's just over 100 feet on each end to play with for ramps. Should be doable, but still requires some switchbacks to make it fit (maximum slope for ADA is 1 foot of rise for every 12 feet of length, plus flat spots for every 2.5 feet of rise).

Unfortunately a Lowry stop would require widening the rail bridges over Lowry and Washington, which wouldn't be cheap.

A stop by University at the Superior Plating site could similarly use the bridges over the tracks at University and 5th Street in place of pedestrian bridges. That's about 760 feet of room overall, enough for about 165 feet for ramps on each end of a platform, plus there could be access straight to the center of the platform from each side by reclaiming the old 4th Street right-of-way.

I'm not quite sure what would work near Central/Broadway. Initially, it would only need to be a single-track station, but it should probably be designed with a second track in mind. Putting something between 12th Street and 14th Street might work, but those streets don't have grade separations. That wouldn't be a problem if we were in Europe where freight trains aren't very long, but a long, slow train here could easily take 5 minutes to pass through an intersection, so some sort of grade-separation for pedestrians would be needed, whether that's just a ped bridge that's available when crossing at ground level is blocked, or if it's grade-separating the whole street (probably 12th).

tabletop
Nicollet Mall
Posts: 128
Joined: June 7th, 2012, 3:24 pm

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby tabletop » July 20th, 2014, 7:35 am

I don't get out into the area between Big Lake and St Cloud very often but when I do, for whatever reason, it seems to be around the time when the Northstar is doing its runs. You can see it backs up freight traffic along hwy 10. All the trains are stopped. I would suspect that the railroad (BNSF I believe?) is not content toward letting its freight sit idle while us humans impede on their right-of-way. Delays with the Empirebuilder have been attributed to the freight and there is a lot of stuff being moved on those rails.

Adding service frequency for Northstar has to be out of the question in eyes of the freight railroads who own the line, let alone extending it to St Cloud. Maybe adding track between Fridley and St Cloud would ease congestion and let both functions opporate on better schedules saving money in the long run and boosting revenues on both sides?

Then there is the oil train debate as well, do we want passenger trains on the same tracks as these oil trains? I'm sure a few of you have a different opinion on this but I live in between two of these main lines. Gotta say, it freaks me out a bit.

http://www.minnpost.com/earth-journal/2 ... tinue-rise

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2802
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby mulad » September 27th, 2014, 9:10 pm

I'm not sure if it's any more valid than rumors about skyscrapers in downtown Minneapolis, but someone did mention to me last week that BNSF has been seriously considering getting the stretch between Big Lake and Becker double-tracked. No idea when it might happen, unfortunately. Sure would be nice if they decided to do it next year, though I doubt it would automatically mean the train could be extended to St. Cloud or anything like that (no stations aside from the Amtrak stop up there, and even that probably isn't set up right).

acs
Wells Fargo Center
Posts: 1378
Joined: March 26th, 2014, 8:41 pm

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby acs » September 27th, 2014, 9:23 pm

I think it was a part of BNSFs 2015 capital plan, but I'm not sure.

Also, since when did they have Sunday service outside of vikings games and can I use it to avoid the horrible traffic on I-94 coming back from a cabin?

Tcmetro
Wells Fargo Center
Posts: 1353
Joined: May 31st, 2012, 8:02 pm
Location: Chicago (ex-Minneapolitan)

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby Tcmetro » September 27th, 2014, 10:03 pm

Northstar has had weekend service since its opening in 2009.

User avatar
FISHMANPET
IDS Center
Posts: 4602
Joined: June 6th, 2012, 2:19 pm
Location: Corcoran

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby FISHMANPET » September 27th, 2014, 10:16 pm

I have thought about how a train, either Northstar or Northern Lights Express, could be used to somehow reach a Northwoods cabin and avoid traffic. But the "last mile" problem is kind of extreme.

grant1simons2
IDS Center
Posts: 4290
Joined: February 8th, 2014, 11:33 pm
Location: Marcy-Holmes

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby grant1simons2 » September 27th, 2014, 10:31 pm

Rental cars outside of train depots? Or busing? Lots of cool little options if people could just be more comfortable with it

matt91486
Nicollet Mall
Posts: 133
Joined: December 28th, 2012, 5:28 pm

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby matt91486 » September 28th, 2014, 9:36 am

How is busing possibly an efficient way of getting to cabins? They aren't exactly centralized. The idea that some people would sit on a bus for an hour and a half while a driver goes to three lakes before theirs is ridiculous.

grant1simons2
IDS Center
Posts: 4290
Joined: February 8th, 2014, 11:33 pm
Location: Marcy-Holmes

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby grant1simons2 » September 28th, 2014, 9:45 am

Coach buses. If we ever had a train that went to Brainerd and then from there people could transfer onto a bus that goes to a town, one bus to Crosslake, one to Nisswa, etc. Then this is where I agree it gets difficult, we could have taxis, but who wants to pay more money when they've already paid for the train. In our families case we have family already living right near our cabin so it would be easy for us. The kind of busing you think of is local service busing, and yes, that would never ever work to get people from a train to a cabin..

mamundsen
Wells Fargo Center
Posts: 1109
Joined: November 15th, 2012, 10:01 am

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby mamundsen » September 28th, 2014, 11:22 am

There are so many problems with taking transit to a cabin or resort up north.

1. As has been mentioned, train to bus to taxi or shuttle... No way. Not gonna happen.
2. Most people I know have many extras for these trips. Coolers, yard games, oh yeah and BOATS!
3. Transit typically takes 1.5-2x (or more) than driving yourself. That would mean transit to the north woods could take 8 hrs. Nope.

We don't have to make every corner of everywhere accessible by transit. If someone in the metro wants to experience the lakes, we have many right here in Minneapolis that are easily accessible.

grant1simons2
IDS Center
Posts: 4290
Joined: February 8th, 2014, 11:33 pm
Location: Marcy-Holmes

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby grant1simons2 » September 28th, 2014, 11:38 am

And I agree with that. It would be hard for people with boats and everything similar, just trying to relate with the people who dont want highways built anywhere. Its hard. I disagree with point 3. Especially since the northern lights express will be high speed..

User avatar
woofner
Wells Fargo Center
Posts: 1327
Joined: June 1st, 2012, 10:04 am

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby woofner » September 28th, 2014, 2:54 pm

At the same time, it's really common for one person to drive up to the cabin separately after someone else has already hauled up the seadoo, etc. This could be served by transit to regional centers, with the last mile being served by rides from the ones who already drove up. But it makes Minnesotans uncomfortable to consider that they don't need to be making single occupancy trips in their cat all the time.
"Who rescued whom!"

Suburban Outcast
Landmark Center
Posts: 239
Joined: June 10th, 2012, 8:33 pm

Re: Northstar Commuter Rail

Postby Suburban Outcast » September 28th, 2014, 3:20 pm

Even with the high speed, you have to factor in the actual average speed the train will go. I just came back from UMD from a symposium on Friday and it took me less than 2 hours to get to Vadnais Heights (though yes I was speeding). Even if the train's max speed goes faster than my car, I can still technically outrun it pretty easily by averaging 70-75 mph on 35 since I would have to factor in driving to either Minneapolis or Coon Rapids to take the NLX when I could just get on 35E a half of a mile from my house and go north. Plus then taking a bus from Duluth Central Station to UMD would probably take 20 minutes to get there depending on what type of bus it is (local, express, etc.). I think 35 would have to be more congested than it is now to get a lot of people to consider taking a train up. Even when traffic is at a standstill due to an accident, you can still take Hwy 61 and then Hwy 23 which goes parallel to 35 and basically go 60 mph from Duluth to the cities still.

My opinion is that if Northstar finally gets extended, it probably will work for:
- St. Cloud area commuters who commute to areas nearby one of the stations
- Reverse commuters to downtown St. Cloud from Anoka and Sherburne counties
- College students,
- People going to sports games/day trips into the cities or St. Cloud,
...but probably never cabin people unless someone coming up on the train had a ride waiting for them in St. Cloud.


Return to “Transportation”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests