Shørtstår: What if the Northstar Were a Local?

Imagine you were in a region that was growing and had a transportation problem.

Shortstar Routing and Stations

Shørtstår Routing and Stations

Imagine you had a grade separated rail line into the heart of the city, connecting with other rail lines.

Imagine this line already had two stations constructed.

Imagine this line passed through some high density neighborhoods without stopping.

Imagine you already ran some service on this line.

Wouldn’t you look at this as an opportunity?

For a variety of reasons, the Northstar has not been the most successful transit line in the Twin Cities region.

While it runs through the streetcar suburbs and transit-compatible neighborhoods of Northeast Minneapolis, it doesn’t actually stop there. This diminishes the number of riders it might carry so that it might convey about 1000 suburbanites into downtown about 5 minutes faster. Both local residents going southbound in the morning, and suburbanites who might want to stop short of downtown get short-shifted by this configuration.  There have been efforts in other cites to convert commuter trains into more frequent, all-day, urban service. (e.g. London, Toronto – add more in the comments). With only one line, that opportunity has not yet befallen the Twin Cities.

Imagine instead that instead of no stops, an abbreviated version of the Northstar line (let’s call it the Shørtstår Line, though we can give it a color like “Silver” or “Noir”) ran frequently during the day on the same corridor but on a reduced route between say Fridley and Target Field, and had stops at

  • Fridley
  • Lowry and 7th St NE,
  • Broadway and Central, and
  • University Avenue and 3rd Ave NE
  • Target Field Station

Like any good transit service, this would be a 10 minute headway service, served by several Diesel Multiple Unit trains. From aerial photos it appears the right-of-way should be sufficient along most of the route to provide two passenger-only tracks (since that is what our region insists upon). In any case, it could share tracks with freight most of the day, as the tracks do not appear to be congested in this region, if there were some forethought about scheduling. (Bigger cities do more with less).

What kind of ridership might this line get? I don’t know – but as lines go, this looks at least as plausible as many much more expensive routes that are being considered. For the cost of a few temporary stations, renting some trains, and some negotiating with the railroads for running rights for a one year trial, the region would get a good idea of how well this might work before expensive rolling stock were purchased and new tracks laid. If it worked well (in terms of cost-effectiveness, compared with other existing and proposed lines), more permanent infrastructure could be built. If not, the trains’ leases could expire and they could go elsewhere.