Edina Considers Reviving 80 Year Old Rail

Dan_Patch_Meeting_864x428.jpgEdina is considering a study to operate light rail commuter trains on the Dan Patch corridor.  If the citizens that turned out for the “community engagement forum” on July 25 were any indication, supporters in the standing-room-only crowd were decidedly in the minority.

The Dan Patch Line is essentially a single track that runs from Northfield to Savage.  It then crosses the Minnesota River into Bloomington and runs north along the east side of Hyland Park.  It continues north through Edina to St Louis Park, staying west of Highway 100. 

The information provided at the forum may be accessed by CLICKING HERE.  When reviewing the information, consider that

  • After a $400,000 study and considerable local opposition, local legislators did not support a light rail operation in this corridor in 2002. 
  • Freight traffic will continue on this single line, and will likely increase.
  • To reduce costs from earlier estimates, the commuter trains would have to run on the same track, without an increase in right-of-way, over 14 same-grade road crossings, with unique cars that cannot operate on the other existing light rail tracks.

  • Edina needs the support of the cities of Bloomington, Savage, and St Louis Park to make going forward with a study realistic.  Several of the Bloomington city council candidates do not support this option now. 

Edina will continue to gather community feedback, with a follow-up meeting scheduled for September.  Edina residents are urged to let their city council members know of their concerns about pursuing the proposed $30,000 study.

Steve Elkins, Bloomington resident and a member of the Metropolitan Council, believes that removing the gag rule is in order:

  • Trains will now be equipped with electronic equipment that will automatically stop any trains that find themselves on a collision course with another train on the same track.
  • Transit vehicle manufacturers are offering lightweight diesel electric hybrid passenger trains which meet all Federal Railway Administration’s crashworthiness requirements. These vehicles look similar to, but are not the same as, the LRT vehicles used by Metro Transit.

Elkins argues that the single rail line would be sufficient.  Despite the sharing of the line between light rail and freight, no additional right of way would need to be acquired.  Quiet Zone crossings would be implemented so that there would be no train whistles from either freight or passenger trains (safety fencing would be installed along the entire route).  Light rail traffic running along the east side of Hyland Park in Bloomington, along a light industrial area of southern Edina, and through residential areas of central Edina and St. Louis Park would provide needed commuter service better than Rapid Transit Buses going directly into Minneapolis and St. Paul.

However, Edina residents should consider:

  • The single track in the Dan Patch corridor is a Canadian Pacific Rail spur used to connect shippers in Bloomington and Richfield with CP Rail’s Humboldt Yard in North Minneapolis.  Currently, a slow freight train makes one round trip per day on the track. 
  • The Twin Cities & Western Railroad (TC&W) has trackage rights to use the Dan Patch Line to carry grain from its western Minnesota service area to the grain elevators at Port Savage.
  • TC&W operations on the line are likely to increase in the coming years because, with the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, it may become cost competitive to ship grain to Asia by barging it down the Mississippi to New Orleans and shipping it from New Orleans to Asia through the new Panama Canal.
  • In 2001, MNDOT conducted a $400,000 study of the feasibility of implementing commuter rail service in the Dan Patch Corridor from Minneapolis to Lakeville. The study concluded that such a service would not be practical because

o   the project would have cost about $350 million in 2001 dollars

o   projected ridership was not adequate to justify that investment.

o   congestion on the roads would NOT decrease and only serve 2800 riders at best.

o   Bloomington, Edina, Burnsville and St. Louis park were all negative on this plan.

  • Public feelings on the line ran 70% negative, with strong neighborhood opposition to the operation of large trains through residential neighborhoods along the line.  There are 14 at-grade railroad crossings between St. Louis Park and Savage, including across major east-west commuter routes in Bloomington such as Old Shakopee Rd and Bush Lake Rd.
  • In 2002, state legislators from Edina, Bloomington and Lakeville successfully sponsored legislation that prohibited MNDOT, the Metropolitan Council or the County Regional Rail Authorities from undertaking future studies of “commuter rail” service in this corridor. This legislation has come to be known as the “Dan Patch Gag Rule”.
  • "The estimated construction cost including noise wall mitigation is $461 million. Estimated net annual operating and maintenance cost – the amount not covered by revenue -- is $3.3 million. Both costs are in year 2010 dollars. Annual combined (amortized capital, operating and maintenance) cost to the local taxpayers, assuming 50% federal funding (money from all taxpayers) for construction, is estimated at $23.35 million/year, i.e., about $8400 per passenger each year.

Is this an idea whose time has come, or is it another Northstar-like drain on local transit budgets?