HSR for MSP to Duluth progressing

Discussion in 'High Speed and Other Non-Amtrak Intercity Rail' started by CHamilton, Apr 7, 2013.

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  1. Sep 5, 2013 #26
    Should be fairly easy to extend existing service to St. Cloud, especially since this certain congress person is not running for re-election. Northstar Service sure beats driving on US10.
     
  2. Sep 5, 2013 #27

    jebr

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    The biggest problem is that BNSF will want some money to double track from Big Lake to Clear Lake before allowing service to St. Cloud.

    Honestly, I think Metro Transit needs to invest in a stop at Foley Blvd. Park & Ride. That station has plenty of express bus riders already and could probably utilize the extra capacity train service provides.
     
  3. Jan 27, 2014 #28
    The states of IL, WI and MN are currently taking a serous look at a 2nd Chicago-MSP train that might continue on to Duluth. In order to realize its full potential, there would need to be additional trains during the day between MSP-Duluth. Rochester is a good proposal but it would require all-new right-of-way for much of the distance. Gov. Dayton and the current legislature seems to be a little easier to work with.
     
  4. Feb 3, 2014 #29
    FWIW, the current ongoing study is of Chicago-MSP; the lead agency is MinnDOT. They'd really like a train without the delays of the Empire Builder.

    The study is supposed to come in sometime in mid-2014, and if it looks cheap enough, it could be a real possibility for funding from the MN legislature.

    It should be cheap enough. The route is short enough, and the cities involved big enough, to have pretty high ridership if it runs on time. St. Paul Union Depot has more than enough tracks for it, as does Chicago Union Station north side. There would be no new stations. It's just a matter of finding a slot on the various railroads, and getting equipment. A slot can probably be obtained from Milwaukee to Chicago using one of the Hiawatha slots. The "807/808" coaches could be taken off the Empire Builder. So the amount of equipment needed wouldn't be that much, either.

    If this happens, the inevitable result will be that CP will pay even less attention to timekeeping for the Empire Builder, since all the "time sensitive" traffic will be on the new train. That's OK.
     
  5. Feb 3, 2014 #30

    jphjaxfl

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    They would really need to market the separate Chicago - Twin Cities Train. I lived in the Twin Cities for 20 years total in 2 different segments. I knew lot of people who used to take Amtrak from the Twin Cities to Chicago. The majority of them now fly because the Empire Builder has been unreliable for a number of years. The service would need to be reliable and well marketed to get those people back.
     
  6. Feb 3, 2014 #31

    Anderson

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    Depending on how the numbers look, I could see the state springing for 10-12 bilevels off the current order if it would save enough on equipment charges.

    As to ridership, the Builder will likely bleed most of its traffic EB due to the horrendous OTP. WB is another story, however: The Builder doesn't tend to have OTP issues into MSP, it's got a full diner, and for a similar example the Silver Star still retains quite a bit of traffic NB out of RVR while the Meteor retains a decent amount SB into RVR. Both have desirable schedules for some folks, after all. This is likely to create some interesting issues...if you get a net of 25,000 folks who want to go WB on the Builder but EB on the state train, that's a headache waiting to happen.

    Honestly, if I'm Amtrak, I'd retain 807 and 808 on the timetable. However, I'd only run a spare car for 807 (the WB coach), and instead hook the car onto the state train in some sort of agreement to help with the asymmetric traffic that's likely to develop there.
     
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  7. Feb 3, 2014 #32

    Ispolkom

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    Sure, as long as either no state money was involved, or Wisconsin picked up part of the tab.
     
  8. Feb 4, 2014 #33
    The current Empire Builder schedule is pretty much designed around the Chicago-Twin Cities service.

    I wouldn't be surprised to see a state-run train running very close to the same timeslots, maybe a couple of hours difference. Think about it this way:

    (1) The main market is Minnesota residents visiting Chicago, not vice versa.

    (2) The timetable is too long to serve day trips. (And you can't run the service with one trainset.)

    (3) You don't want to run overnight.

    This gives you two options for the westbound:

    (A) depart afternoon, arrive evening

    (B) depart morning, arrive afternoon

    And two options for the eastbound:

    (A) depart morning, arrive afternoon

    (B) depart afternoon, arrive evening

    Given that you're serving people from Minnesota visiting Chicago, you want to maximize time available in Chicago on a short trip, so you pick (A) both times, and you have a schedule which is pretty much the current Empire Builder schedule.

    If the MSP train runs in close to the same slot as the Empire Builder, this is going to cause much less complaint from BNSF and CP, who can "fleet" the passenger trains if they're running on time.

    Alternatively, if there is a standalone train on roughly this schedule, this allows the Empire Builder to move to a different schedule. It could be one more focused on its western connections: departing later eastbound, departing earlier westbound. Or it could be one more guaranteed to make Chicago connections: departing earlier eastbound, departing later westbound. Either way it would probably provide worse MSP-Chicago service.

    So I don't think there will be much schedule competition between a new train and the Empire Builder for MSP-Chicago service. Some people may wish to take the Empire Builder in order to use the dining car or sleepers, true. I don't think this is going to be a huge group of people, particularly if the prices for the Empire Builder are kept slightly higher than the new train on MSP-CHI.

    Regarding Minnesota's potential willingness to let Wisconsin "freeload", I looked at the PIP at the top 10 Empire Builder markets and what would happen to them:

    Chicago-MSP (8%) -- new train

    Chicago-Seattle (4%) -- Empire Builder

    Chicago-La Crosse (3%) -- new train, and this benefits Minnesota (La Crescent)

    Portland-Pasco (2%) -- Empire Builder

    Chicago-Portland (2%) -- Empire Builder

    Chicago-Winona (2%) -- new train, and this benefits Minnesota

    Portland-Spokane (2%) -- Empire Builder

    Minot-MSP (2%) -- Empire Builder

    Chicago- Wis Dells (2%) -- new train, first "freeloading" from Wisconsin

    Portland-Whitefish (1%) -- Empire Builder

    So, just looking at the top 10 markets, 15% of the Empire Builder traffic would go to the new train, and of that, 13% would be Minnesota-benefiting traffic. Of course, I assume the standalone train would do better than that, but it goes to show what portion of the new train's traffic would be Minnesota-centric.

    A plausible one-a-day service could be operated with 2 trainsets. If Minnesota decided to tag onto the bilevel order using the existing configurations, each would probably start with 1 locomotive, 1 "cab/baggage" car, 1 "cafe/business class" car, and 1-2 coaches. That's 6-8 cars and 2 locos -- not a lot. Enough to scrounge up by paying equipment charges to Amtrak, even. Or to Illinois, if some of its services take longer to get going than expected (which they might).

    I could see Illinois paying for part of the service even if Wisconsin didn't; and if it absorbed a Hiawatha slot, I could see Wisconsin paying something even under Walker's government. The main obstacle in Minnesota is a retrograde group of anti-rail legislators from certain suburbs, and while that's an obstacle, I don't think it will last.

    This leaves the obstacle of how much ransom CP will hold Minnesota up for -- if they demand a king's ransom, obviously, the train won't happen. We won't find out until the study is published, and maybe not even then.

    Marketing would certainly be necessary... but also straightforward. I think it would be worth being honest and advertising "This train starts in St. Paul -- so it will leave on time."
     
  9. Feb 4, 2014 #34

    jebr

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    I question the assertion that a train shouldn't run overnight. Granted, without sleepers it may be a somewhat hard sell, but I don't see anything particularly wrong with running overnight. One of the reasons why I almost always take Megabus in the MSP - CHI corridor is the fact that I can travel overnight and basically sleep through the trip. I'd be willing to pay a bit of a premium, though probably not current Amtrak prices, for a coach seat on an overnight train on the MSP - CHI corridor.

    Many of the overnight buses are full, too, so I'm not the only one that thinks this way. Enough for a train load? Not sure, but I wouldn't discount it immediately.

    Also, I'm not sure BNSF would need to be in the negotiations at all, unless we were to run the new train north of MSP (which may make sense for political purposes, though with all the delays even between FAR and MSP lately, I don't think I want it starting before MSP. BNSF seems to have bitten off way more than it can chew on the Builder's line.)
     
  10. Feb 4, 2014 #35

    jphjaxfl

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    When Amtrak operated the Northstar from Duluth to Midway Station to Chicago leaving the Twin Cities about 10:30PM and arriving in Chicago around 8:00AM, I used to ride it frequently as it was perfect for a weekend in Chicago. Sometimes I would get a roomette in 10/6 and sometimes I would go coach. I would go down to Chicago on Thursday or Friday night and return on the Empire Builder on Sunday or Monday. It also made good connections to Detroit or St. Louis. The train was well patronized and the Duluth-Twin Cities leg was subsidized by MN.
     
  11. Feb 4, 2014 #36

    Ispolkom

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    The real problem, I think, is that there isn't any group of pro-rail legislators. The default is to do nothing (or rather, to spend money on roads), and you need advocates for intercity rail to overcome that. Where are they?

    Like jebr, I don't see the problem with an overnight train, but perhaps that's because my most common trip is overnight from St. Paul to Minot. It wouldn't do much to serve intermediate cities in Wisconsin, but if you don't pay, you don't play.

    The biggest problem (other than the lack of any prorail political will in Minnesota) is the lack of spare capacity on any rail route between the Twin Cities and Chicago. BNSF's problems are well-known, but CP is also running full with tank cars of oil and hopper cars of frack sand, and has a far less robust built infrastructure.
     
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  12. Feb 4, 2014 #37

    Anderson

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    The question of whether it's a difference of thirty minutes or three hours is not trivial in this respect. If the scheduling is tight (such as is the case with the Lynchburger and the Crescent), that'll facilitate more traffic shifting over; if the scheduling is looser, less will since you effectively get two markets.

    However, even with the Lynchburger, it seems that a good deal of business has slid back over to the Crescent in the last two years: Per NARP's stats, the Crescent has seen ridership at CVS jump by about 60% (and at LYH by 50%), and two of the top ridership pairs are CVS-NYP (#5) and CVS-WAS (#8). While I suspect part of this is a rebound as the Lynchburger has increasingly filled up, so folks who switched to the Regional are getting pushed back to the Crescent once again. This is reinforced by the fact that the Lynchburger's numbers are flat for both stations at the same time.

    Additionally, I can't see Amtrak ditching the CHI-MSP market, at least WB, given its current size. If MN makes a hard bid to undercut Amtrak's fares and a lot of people jump, they might, but as long as the Builder has a decent amount of traffic in that pair, it would be irresponsible of Amtrak to abandon it. As you noted, those major pairs are about 75-80k of the Builder's riders (and you probably have another 15-25k from the smaller pairs)...you do NOT dump that much traffic without a good reason.

    Finally, I think you do discount the share of traffic that would be CHI-MKE. The odds of this train locking out the Milwakuee stations seem pretty low, after all, and at times that's just going to be leaving money on the table. The train might get "space locked" starting at Milwaukee (i.e. MN limits the amount of space available for short hop traffic there), and MN might nudge the price up there to try and avoid having the train get swamped, but I can't see them freezing out Milwaukee.

    =================================

    One other thought: An overnight train on this route would be an excellent proposition, though it is sadly unlikely. It probably does make the most sense as the third or fourth train on the route (i.e. as a second or third corridor train), but I'm skeptical of the idea that we'd see a state (other than CA or NY under the right circumstances) try to start up an overnight train of their own.
     
  13. Feb 4, 2014 #38

    Paulus

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    Overnight service does not do well, especially given how large of a percentage of trips come from the intermediate markets. Consider too that it is an 8 hour trip which means either a very late departure or a very early arrival at either terminal and horrible times for any intermediate traffic.

    California tried an overnight train, The Spirit of California, which was cancelled after poor ridership.
     
  14. Feb 6, 2014 #39
    I graciously concede your point!
    However, given the issue of sleepers and appropriateness of them for an overnight train, might it make more sense to run the state train as a day train and reschedule the Empire Builder to run overnight between the Twin Cities and MSP? This combination might get the best ridership and revenue overall.

    Additional upsides: The "new" Empire Builder would have daytime running in North Dakota (where ridership has been booming due to the oil boom), and a good daytime schedule for Spokane-Seattle and Spokane-Portland.

    Downsides: nighttime running in Montana, and breaking same-day connections with the Coast Starlight.

    Where? If you want a geographical answer, they come from St. Paul, Minneapolis, Rochester, Duluth, and Northfield. To my knowledge. The desirability of Chicago access is probably the only thing they can agree on; they've been kind of pulling at cross-purposes otherwise.
     
  15. Feb 7, 2014 #40

    Anderson

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  16. Nov 22, 2014 #41

    CHamilton

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    Open houses slated for proposed Minneapolis-Duluth high-speed rail service

     
  17. Nov 27, 2014 #42
    Northstar was originally supposed to run all the way to St. Cloud but a certain congresswoman from MN moved to kill the funds for extended service. This decision was probably based on ideology and not economics.
     
  18. Dec 10, 2014 #43

    CHamilton

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    http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2014/12/09/high-speed-passenger-rail-planned-from-twin-cities-to-duluth/

    H/T to TraneMan
     
  19. Dec 10, 2014 #44

    Anderson

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    If this comes together, I hope they're able to work out a second CHI-MSP train that either connects or runs through. For reference, vis-a-vis the winter 1980 timetable, the Builder and North Star are an hour faster CHI-MSP; if MSP-Duluth takes two hours as planned, that would be another 1:45 off of the old timetable (a 13:05 trip would be plugged in at about 10:20 or so now). Granted, this would still be a good route for an overnight train to connect through...but that's a good third/fourth train. A through connection of any sort would serve both services well.
     
  20. Mar 9, 2018 #45

    DSS&A

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  21. Mar 10, 2018 #46

    jis

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    Apparently anything that travels a few mph above 79 is considered “High Speed” in the US these days. How 20th Century!

    Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum
     
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  22. May 21, 2019 #47

    Ziv

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    "Higher speed" Express line. They couched that press release carefully. So we can file it in the "Accurate but slightly misleading" category.
     
  23. May 22, 2019 #48

    me_little_me

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    I'd rather have a 79mph+ train that does instead of a 200mph train that doesn't have as good an average speed. That's the real problem in this country - average speed on Amtrak trains (except in a few cases) is so slow, one can watch the cars on the 35mph parallel road go zipping past. Even walkers outrun trains sitting on sidings while waiting for the four freights to go by. Top speed is meaningless. Average speed and time to destination are what count.
     
  24. May 22, 2019 #49

    jebr

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    Looking at the negotiated transportation budget, it looks like there's no operational funding for MSP - Duluth or MSP - Chicago in the two-year budget (the FY 22-23 listed in the spreadsheet is projections based on current spending levels, not ratified budgets.) There could be some money in the bonding bill, but based on current rumblings I'm not optimistic for any one-time capital funding there.

    On the plus side, there is money to properly study extending Northstar to St. Cloud. If the study is positive, I'd expect to see some traction on that fairly quickly since there's a lot more advocacy around that currently than either a Duluth train or a second daily train to Chicago.

    https://twitter.com/Stowydad/status/1131243458134454273
     
  25. May 22, 2019 #50

    bretton88

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    Extending the North Star to St Cloud would probably really help that trains performance.
     

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