Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

General discussion of passenger rail proposals and systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.

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mtuandrew
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Re: Minneapolis, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by mtuandrew » Thu Apr 12, 2012 6:07 pm

I took one of the tours of the St. Paul Union Depot today, offered periodically through the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority. If you live in the Twin Cities or nearby, I definitely recommend trying to register for one of these free tours at http://uniondepot.eventbrite.com/.

The building, completed in 1919, will be the only original depot in regular use in the Twin Cities, with the Minneapolis Great Northern Depot having been torn down and the Minneapolis Milwaukee Depot converted into a hotel and ice rink off rail. Josh Collins, the communications director for RCRRA, said that SPUD will be open to its first tenants - Amtrak, Jefferson Lines, and Metro Transit bus - later this year. Only two tracks will be completed at the moment, with a new covered structure leading to the Amtrak tracks past the edge of the concourse. When commuter rail and high-speed rail (whatever form that takes) get to St. Paul, the RCRRA will add tracks. However, for now Amtrak will continue to do its fueling, watering, and switching of private cars at the Midway site, on the Minnesota Commercial Railway - Mr. Collins mentioned that they would have the capacity for that at the depot at opening though.

Contrary to earlier suggestions, the Central Corridor Light Rail line is being built in front of the depot on 4th Street, cutting off the former drop-off loop and requiring two new drop-off sites: one is the carriageway under the main entrance between Jackson and Sibley Streets; the other is on the south side of Kellogg Blvd. adjoining the concourse where a new kiss-and-ride structure is being built. Otherwise, there will be a great deal of parking for Amtrak, Metro Transit, Jefferson Lines and other customers both under the depot and next to the train platforms. Another portion of the platform will be a sort of green space or plaza. Much of the rest of the former train platform will either be reserved for future use, or used for intercity bus service through Jefferson Lines, giving the state something of a regional hub.

My personal opinion: the building is beautiful, especially on the inside. I am grateful that they didn't suborn the transportation utility of the structure to the beauty and rentability (as was done in Kansas City.) It won't see much occupancy at first, with just the Empire Builder and a handful of Jefferson buses, but I'm hopeful that Minnesota will see fit to purchase regional service soon.

To see some pictures, go to http://www.facebook.com/uniondepot. Enjoy!

neroden
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Re: Minneapolis, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by neroden » Mon Apr 16, 2012 12:55 am

mtuandrew wrote: However, for now Amtrak will continue to do its fueling, watering, and switching of private cars at the Midway site, on the Minnesota Commercial Railway - Mr. Collins mentioned that they would have the capacity for that at the depot at opening though.
This surprises me; I wouldn't expect Amtrak to want to make the extra stop at the Minnesota Commercial after moving to St. Paul Union Depot.

mtuandrew
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Re: Minneapolis, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by mtuandrew » Mon Apr 16, 2012 1:18 am

neroden wrote:
mtuandrew wrote: However, for now Amtrak will continue to do its fueling, watering, and switching of private cars at the Midway site, on the Minnesota Commercial Railway - Mr. Collins mentioned that they would have the capacity for that at the depot at opening though.
This surprises me; I wouldn't expect Amtrak to want to make the extra stop at the Minnesota Commercial after moving to St. Paul Union Depot.
I wouldn't have thought so either, but SPUD won't have its own switcher for the more complicated movements, and with only two tracks they won't have nearly as much free space as the Midway. Perhaps that will change, if the private car lobby convinces RCRRA to add stub tracks.

mtuandrew
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Re: Minneapolis, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by mtuandrew » Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:32 pm

Want to see how you make ribbon rail from stick? Here's footage of rail welding at Union Depot (with a lot of background noise): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cj7sXUl_pfg It's more proof to my eyes that Ramsey County is serious about opening late this year.

mtuandrew
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Re: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by mtuandrew » Thu Jun 07, 2012 1:26 pm

Moderator's Note: For information about the Metro Transit light rail lines, including Hiawatha, Central Corridor, the proposed Southwest Corridor, and other proposed lines, see Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Metro Transit light rail.

mtuandrew
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Re: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by mtuandrew » Thu Jun 28, 2012 12:55 am

In the "Throw stuff at the wall and see if it sticks" department: http://kstp.com/news/stories/S2671480.shtml?cat=1
Fares Cut for Northstar Commuter Train
6/27/12 - Jay Kolls, KSTP-TV

The Met Council took a unique approach to try and improve ridership on the Northstar commuter rail line. For three years, the number of riders has not lived up to expectations and has declined. So, the Met Council voted to lower fares to try and attract more people on the train that runs all the way from the Twin Cities up to Big Lake.

...

The lower fares, starting August 1st, will be cut from seven to six dollars for weekday rush hour patrons.
See the rest of the article for more information, including speculation on what would happen if Metro Transit decided to cancel Northstar service (they'd have to pay the Federal government $150 million.) I hope this move works, since this line seems to be the best bet for commuter rail in the entire Twin Cities metropolitan area.

mtuandrew
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Re: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by mtuandrew » Tue Jul 17, 2012 7:45 pm

From a post by Jeff Smith recently:
Jeff Smith wrote:http://www.salon.com/2012/07/14/commuti ... um=twitter

A very nice article: fair-use quote below.
Minneapolis’ Great Northern Depot was never as boastful as its palatial East Coast cousins, but its well-appointed, spartan, Midwestern reserve was gorgeous nonetheless. Sterling white walls overlooked long, dark benches, and an enormous naturalist painting depicting pre-fur trader Minnesota hung over the ticket counter. But like much of the city (40 percent of downtown Minneapolis was leveled for urban renewal), the Beaux-Arts train station found itself on the business end of a wrecking ball in 1978.

On Monday, 99 years after the Depot welcomed its first locomotive, history came full circle as the city broke ground on what’s being called “an open-air version of New York’s Grand Central.” That’s a slight exaggeration, but in some ways the new hub, called the Interchange, more accurately reflects today’s urban ideals than those monumental terminals of the railroading era. “Minnesotans do describe this as their Grand Central,” says Peter Cavaluzzi, principal at EE&K, which designed the complex. “But the difference is that this really functions in the new wave of transit hubs where we’re trying to blend transit and culture.”

Imagine talking to Pete Campbell as he’s schlepping home on the 6:45 to Cos Cob about blending transit and culture. But that’s what’s been happening over the past several years. For better or worse, transit is coming to be seen as one more urban consumption option, a lifestyle choice almost as defining as buying a car was 60 years ago. Ridership is soaring, going car-less is cause for bragging rights, and people are clamoring for transit options that suit their aesthetics and values, from streetcars to bike shares. And the new transit hubs are striving to reflect this. “In the old days you had the station house, an iconic edifice associated mainly with transportation,” says Cavaluzzi. “Now the definition of the station is being broadened to make it a larger ‘transit environment.’”
To see more about the Interchange project in Minneapolis, see http://www.theinterchange.net/.

neroden
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Re: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by neroden » Thu Jul 26, 2012 11:10 am

mtuandrew wrote:In the "Throw stuff at the wall and see if it sticks" department: http://kstp.com/news/stories/S2671480.shtml?cat=1
...
See the rest of the article for more information, including speculation on what would happen if Metro Transit decided to cancel Northstar service (they'd have to pay the Federal government $150 million.) I hope this move works, since this line seems to be the best bet for commuter rail in the entire Twin Cities metropolitan area.
I hope it works too. Unfortunately, Northstar had a half-assed design, driven by broken Bush-era "cost-effectiveness" rules; and the current federal and state attitude seems to be "we won't give you money to extend this line or build another line until this one does well". But perhaps they will find local money to add the missing infill stations and so forth.

Ramsey station should help, and it's due to open at the end of the year.

They seem to be working hard on lining up funding for Foley Blvd. station, which would help a lot. Though unfortunately they haven't lined up the funding yet.

Perhaps the fare reduction will help.

trainmaster611
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Re: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by trainmaster611 » Sat Jul 28, 2012 6:23 am

neroden wrote:
mtuandrew wrote:In the "Throw stuff at the wall and see if it sticks" department: http://kstp.com/news/stories/S2671480.shtml?cat=1
...
See the rest of the article for more information, including speculation on what would happen if Metro Transit decided to cancel Northstar service (they'd have to pay the Federal government $150 million.) I hope this move works, since this line seems to be the best bet for commuter rail in the entire Twin Cities metropolitan area.
I hope it works too. Unfortunately, Northstar had a half-assed design, driven by broken Bush-era "cost-effectiveness" rules; and the current federal and state attitude seems to be "we won't give you money to extend this line or build another line until this one does well". But perhaps they will find local money to add the missing infill stations and so forth.

Ramsey station should help, and it's due to open at the end of the year.

They seem to be working hard on lining up funding for Foley Blvd. station, which would help a lot. Though unfortunately they haven't lined up the funding yet.

Perhaps the fare reduction will help.
You're absolutely right, the line is doing bad because it was half-assed. The best way to improve ridership is to expand the hours of operation so that it becomes an actual means of getting around rather than the current rush hour only model and to extend the line to St Cloud so there's an actual community to anchor the other end of the line and so the line can serve as a regional rail service. I seem to remember reading somewhere that fare cuts aren't as effective as one would hope, unfortunately.

Honestly, the money for the Northstar Line would have been better invested in another light rail line.

MattW
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Re: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by MattW » Sat Jul 28, 2012 12:30 pm

Why does every commuter rail startup insist on running rushhour only service instead of all day service? It's ridiculous to start a rail service that can only serve a limited number of people during very limited times, then wonder why the trains aren't overflowing with people.

electricron
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Re: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by electricron » Sun Jul 29, 2012 1:17 am

MattW wrote:Why does every commuter rail startup insist on running rushhour only service instead of all day service? It's ridiculous to start a rail service that can only serve a limited number of people during very limited times, then wonder why the trains aren't overflowing with people.
Because it is easier politically to add services later if necessary than to cut services later. Just look at the DCTA experience on tracks owned by DART (not a freight railroad). On commuter rail lines where the tracks are owned by a freight railroad company, it's difficult to add many passenger trains to the existing freight trains because the freight railroad companies overcharge for access, and demand far more fixes than what is probably necessary, so that can charge even more. Follow the money, because money is the root of all the reasons why commuter rail agencies limit services to rush hours.

mtuandrew
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Re: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by mtuandrew » Wed Aug 01, 2012 7:36 pm

Beyond the poor service and unreceptive public, here are two other reasons this service has seen mediocre benefits for the cost:

-BNSF runs a gold-plated service, for platinum-coated prices. Sticker shock kept the service to a minimum, rather than allowing a much fuller complement.
-Take a look at where the line runs, and then take a look at the congressional district map. It stands to reason that the urban congressman (one of the most liberal in the nation) has little interest in seeing jobs in his district going to people out of that district. It also makes sense that the rural congresswoman (one of the most conservative in the nation) has no interest in funding a mass transit project of any sort, especially one anchored outside of her district.

mtuandrew
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Re: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Metro Transit commuter rail

Post by mtuandrew » Wed Jul 17, 2013 9:21 pm

neroden wrote:
mtuandrew wrote:In the "Throw stuff at the wall and see if it sticks" department: http://kstp.com/news/stories/S2671480.shtml?cat=1" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
...
See the rest of the article for more information, including speculation on what would happen if Metro Transit decided to cancel Northstar service (they'd have to pay the Federal government $150 million.) I hope this move works, since this line seems to be the best bet for commuter rail in the entire Twin Cities metropolitan area.
I hope it works too. Unfortunately, Northstar had a half-assed design, driven by broken Bush-era "cost-effectiveness" rules; and the current federal and state attitude seems to be "we won't give you money to extend this line or build another line until this one does well". But perhaps they will find local money to add the missing infill stations and so forth.

Ramsey station should help, and it's due to open at the end of the year.

They seem to be working hard on lining up funding for Foley Blvd. station, which would help a lot. Though unfortunately they haven't lined up the funding yet.

Perhaps the fare reduction will help.
Apparently it did stick :-) From Metro Transit: http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts ... ins/83b88f" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;:
Year-to-date, Northstar commuter rail ridership is up more than 50,000 or 15.1 percent over 2012 – fueled by a fare adjustment that was made permanent on May 1 and the opening of Ramsey Station in November of 2012. In June, customers boarded Northstar trains an average of 3,058 times per weekday – the first time the 3,000 mark has been surpassed in the line’s history.
The remainder of the press release talks about how total transit ridership is up, but METRO Blue Line (f/k/a Hiawatha Line) is down slightly over its best year ever. Either way, I think I have a reverse-commute trip to St. Cloud in my future, via Northstar and the Link, just because I can.

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