Please note that this should not be confused with the Dan Patch Corridor, a proposed regional/commuter/intercity rail line between Minneapolis and Northfield, and possibly further south. The original Dan Patch Line, known as the High Line, was built in 1910 between South Minneapolis and Northfield. Before the Dan Patch Line (later Minneapolis Northfield & Southern Railway or MN&S) had direct access to Downtown Minneapolis, trains went through Bloomington, Richfield, and terminated in South Minneapolis (just north of present-day Highway 62) where passengers could transfer to the Twin Cities Rapid Transit’s Nicollet Avenue Line.
Passenger service ended in 1942, but the High Line has survived with multiple industries shipping by rail. The MN&S was bought by the Soo Line in 1982, and the Soo was then bought by Canadian Pacific in 1990. In 2001 Progressive Rail, a short-line railroad based in Lakeville, purchased the High Line, made minor fixes to the track, and focused on serving local shippers and encouraging other industries to ship by rail. This seems to have paid off considering the line still exists.
So why rail transit on the High Line spur? Existing railroad right-of-way. Very few, if any, properties would need to be acquired between 90th Street and the end of the line just north of Highway 62. The rail line closely follows two north-south arterials; Lyndale Avenue and Nicollet Avenue, and it would intersect with the east-west arterials that have existing bus service. As well, passenger transfers to the Orange Line BRT and any future rapid transit along American Boulevard.
Considering a long segment of the rails were manufactured in 1910 and the tracks are fully covered in grass in some areas, there is no doubt a need for major upgrades in addition to negotiating with Progressive Rail. Their operation is pretty simple; pick up and drop off at industries where needed, and all the cars will be taken to the west side of Bloomington to be picked up by Canadian Pacific and sent off to their intended destinations.
An alternatives analysis of this corridor would likely have the following options:
-no build and improve existing bus service on Lyndale and Nicollet
-extend Nicollet ABRT further south to Bloomington
-LRT/streetcar hybrid spur on the High Line connecting with Nicollet ABRT (basically what the Dan Patch Line did 100 years ago)
-LRT/streetcar hybrid on the High Line and then going onto Nicollet Avenue to Downtown Minneapolis
-LRT/subway on the High Line then underground to Downtown Minneapolis
While the LRT/subway option is the most expensive, that is my preference because it would be a huge transit upgrade for South Minneapolis and Uptown and opens the opportunity to through-route north past Downtown Minneapolis. In order to not be redundant with the Orange Line it should be routed under Lyndale Avenue north of Highway 62. To directly serve the South Bloomington Transit Center, trains would have to be routed onto Old Shakopee Road/98th Street and Lyndale Avenue for a short distance. That creates traffic, safety, and logistical concerns so perhaps running in mixed traffic on that segment could be done, but that depends on the rolling stock being used. Assuming tracks are shared with freight trains on the High Line then we would either need temporal separation (I strongly doubt that idea would fly with Progressive Rail) or rolling stock acceptable by the Federal Railroad Administration for sharing tracks with freight trains. For a better chance of Progressive Rail approving this and making transit operations more effective at serving demand, the high frequency segment could be north of American Blvd. (Progressive Rail only has three shippers north of that area, so they’re not on that segment often) and lower frequency (every 20-30 minutes) south of American Blvd. where transit demand is less.
As far as I know there has never been a study on using this railroad right-of-way for any type of transit. While the Orange Line is [hopefully] nearing opening we should also look at taking advantage of existing railroad right-of-way for high quality rail transit that can move a large number of people and wouldn’t get entangled with any congestion or road construction on Interstate 35W. Assuming it’s an LRT/subway hybrid under Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis this could appease the people who were disappointed that Southwest LRT avoids the Uptown area. No doubt it would be extremely expensive, but you get what you pay for.
A more thorough look at how the High Line fits in to the overall future Twin Cities system is a topic for another day.