The Original Dan Patch Line: LRT Potential

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.

High Line near Old Shakopee Road in Bloomington

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.

Progressive Rail freight train operating in Bloomington

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.

Rail with 1910 date stamp. Most tracks date from 1910 to the 1940s.

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

North terminus at 59 1/2 Street in south Minneapolis. Spur to right connected to (the original) Nicollet streetcar.

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.


A map of current and future Twin Cities transit lines showing how the High Line (labeled Lapis Line) would fit into overall system

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.

About Eric Ecklund

Eric has lived in Bloomington his whole life (besides 4 months studying in Oslo, Norway). With a Bachelors in Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, his future career is in transportation planning and he is heavily invested in Twin Cities transit from trying different bus routes to continuously examining how to improve the transit network in the Twin Cities.

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21 thoughts on “The Original Dan Patch Line: LRT Potential

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      I couldn’t find any detailed maps of the route, so here’s the north end of the line on Google Maps-,-93.2830672,132m/data=!3m1!1e3

      It heads straight south until 92nd Street where it curves west and heads southwest towards Auto Club Junction (close to 111th Street & Hampshire Ave. in Bloomington).

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I like the idea, but would obviously need some good way to go farther into Minneapolis than 59th 1/2. Undergrounding seems extraordinarily unlikely.

    Richfield has been penciling it in for eventually becoming a rail trail. (Connecting to the Minnehaha Pkwy trail in the north end would be pretty easy, by comparison.) But it still depends on the railroad wanting to vacate it. My understanding is that it is still used, rarely, for Lejeune Steel.

    My cheap preference would be doing aBRT down Nicollet to replace existing 18 service, and converting this to a rail trail.

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      Progressive Rail seems to get good business from Aggregate Industries, but yes LeJeune Steel is rarely served.

      I never understood cities’ fascination with proposing rail-trails on right-of-way still used regularly by the railroad(s). The railroad keeps some trucks off the roads and there’s industry jobs. However I think Pleasant Avenue, the road next to the tracks in Richfield, would be a nice bike boulevard and if transit ever comes on this line they would complement each other.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        I mean, when you have miles of track used, at most, once per day, it’s hard not to imagine what else might go there if the 1-2 businesses served by it were shuttered or no longer needed rail deliveries.

        Pleasant has a huge right-of-way to accommodate the tracks — about 100′ — and no major traffic. So were that to happen, it would hopefully be a fully separated “greenway” trail in the existing wide median, as it is today with the track. Hopefully the existing crossings would remain limited, so there isn’t a vehicular crossing every block. Were it to become a trail, they could also add bike-ped crossings at each block, which would be nice. (There some heavily used unauthorized crossings now, like 72nd St by the high school.)

  2. Monte Castleman

    The 1992 DEIS for the I-35E to Washington Ave I-35W rebuild included the option of using what was then the Soo Line ROW for LRT between 96th and 60th streets. That was not the preferred option and as far as I’m concerned any realistic chance of north-south rail serving the area went down with the overall plan when it sunk under the weight of it’s billion dollar cost.

    With the lack of LRT on I-35W cemented in for the next 60 years, it makes sense to move on. What about extended Riverview over American to the Penn/American development, Best Buy, and maybe even the Golden Triangle. What about an Orange Line branch to Bloomington City Hall, Normandale College, Valley west, maybe even across the Ferry Bridge to Valleyfair, Canterbury Park, and Amazon?

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      I’d prefer we don’t have branches on our Metro routes, as part of the benefit of these routes is they only go in two directions between terminus A and B. Easy to understand.

    2. Daniel Hartigkingledion

      These areas you are suggesting are far too low in population density to be viable for rail. Consider that Boston’s Orange line extends 8 and 7 km North and South of Downtown, and stops in areas with job+employment density of 5570 and 5770 per km^2. For Minneapolis, a comparable distance from downtown is Tangletown, and hte northern border of Minneapolis. A comparable density only exists outside the two downtowns in Uptown and around the Southdale Center in Edina.

      At the current level of density, there is basically only one viable rail transit line left to build, and this from Downtown to Uptown. Until Minneapolis adds another 200,000 people to the city proper, that isn’t going to change.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Light rail was considered viable for this corridor before. What sunk it wasn’t that light rail wasn’t viable, but that no one had a $1 Billion in 1995 dollars to build the entire freeway and LRT from the dirt up from Burnsville Center to downtown (although in the end the preferred alternative was to stay in the I-35W median rather than use the Soo Line ROW.

        There’s a lot of people in the suburbs that will not ride any city bus for any reason, even if you put a nice color on it and purport it to be equal to LRT on transit maps. But they’d be would be willing to stop driving into the city if rail transit was available. So many that removing a general travel lane from I-35W was considered feasible if rail was built.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          > “There’s a lot of people in the suburbs that will not ride any city bus for any reason, even if you put a nice color on it and purport it to be equal to LRT on transit maps.”

          Why not? Isn’t this an attitude we could try to address before throwing billions of dollars to attract these riders?

          (Building aBRT and highway BRT is a way to address this.)

          Unfortunately, it seems like it’s hard to motivate even city leaders and planners to take highway BRT seriously as a new investment. People are excited for the line itself, but so far, Richfield has made zero changes to plan for TOD around its future Orange Line station areas. Compared to the rich, impressive plans that St. Louis Park and Hopkins have done for their Green Line extensions, it seems like even civic leaders sometimes feel that BRT “doesn’t count”. I am hopeful we can think seriously about this over time and do more to capitalize on these BRT investments. Being 7 miles, but only 10-15 minutes from downtown by transit is actually a really big deal.

          1. Monte Castleman

            For people that could reasonably ride a bus, I think it comes down to a couple of things:

            1) To put it bluntly, some people consider themselves above using a bus, like it’s only for poor people or if you get your license yanked for a DUI.

            2) The lurching, start and stop nature and the diesel exhaust.

            3) Trying to figure out how to ride it (that we just had a post about). If I get on a 354B instead of a 354A by mistake am I going to wind up in St. Paul or Minnetonka instead of Bloomington?

            Obviously LRT mitigates all of these. BRT has mixed success. Anyone can figure out how to ride the red line and it doesn’t stop as much, but some aren’t going to ride it no matter what simply because they view themselves as able to afford not to. Similarly I get the idea the commuter coaches- the differently styled seats and free Wifi are as much to try to distinguish them from ordinary MTC buses to get people to think they’re not above riding them as anything else.

            I’m sure some people here are going to freak out at this notion, but I’m just reporting on the reality.

            1. Eric Ecklund Post author

              The Red Line didn’t exactly help giving BRT a good image in the Twin Cities. Started out with service every 15 minutes, but had to get off the freeway for part of the route. We eliminated the need for buses to get off the freeway, but now frequency is only every 20 minutes. Average weekday ridership is around 900.

              The A Line has done better, but it operates in mixed traffic for the whole route.

  3. Daniel Hartigkingledion

    This patch of rail is nice, but isn’t really where you need transit. Population plus employment density is far too low in Bloomington. Some density comparison is in order, for jobs plus employment per sq km, here are the zipcodes going north:

    Bloomington-55420 – 2270 per km^2
    Richfield-55423 – 4190
    S Minn-55419 – 2930
    S Minn-55409 – 4540
    Uptown-55408 – 6400
    Loring Park-55403 – 9200
    Downtown-55401/2 – 44110

    Its really hard to justify rail building and frequent service transit all the way out to Bloomington, and its pretty hard to justify rail even into South Minneapolis, where there is a density gap before Richfield.

    Rail is expensive, and you can only afford to put it where it will get some use. Lyndale from downtown to 36th or 42nd is the densest straight shot rail line you could make in the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, there is no rail there, and a 6 km tunnel will never be affordable. If there is to be any rail, they will either have to convert a side road to rail (like Garfield) or build an L-train over Lyndale.

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      While it is true that the suburban population along the High Line is lower than comparable LRT corridors such as Southwest LRT and Bottineau LRT, going into Minneapolis there is a much larger population assuming it goes under Lyndale, and that’s really why the High Line should be considered for some type of rail transit; the side benefit is an existing railroad right-of-way into the suburban area to thread this into.

      As for cost, I wouldn’t say it will never be affordable to build a tunnel. If we’re spending billions for LRT out to the suburbs then we could spend billions for a LRT/subway whose main purpose is to transport a lot of people in the highly dense Downtown Minneapolis and South Minneapolis.

    1. Daniel Hartigkingledion

      Alon Levy at Pedestrian Observations has a large dataset:

      Lakes Street to the Nicollet Mall station along Lyndale and Hennepin is 4.1 km.

      The only recent light rail tunnel in the US is $500 million/km for San Francisco’s Central Subway (this is light rail); a 2.7 km line. In Vancouver, the many recent skytrain extentions have cost about $250 mil/km for tunnels, $125/km or elevated; and $100/km for at grade.

      Compare to the Green line which cost $957 million (as far as I can tell) for 18 km; a very affordable $53 million/km.

      IF we can do a cut-and-cover subway down Lyndale for $500 million/km, the price tag might be about $2 billion into Nicollet Mall. If we can keep prices to Vancouver level, then $1 billion; an elevated line might be more like $500 million.

      All of these sound like a much better deal than SWLRT for $1.8 billion. This is, incidentally, almost 50% more per route mile than the original Green line, even though the original Green line ran through a more urban area. There hasn’t been that much inflation in the last couple of years.

  4. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Using this railroad right-of-way seems like a huge opportunity in the long term, especially if we see the need for grade-separated rail transit through the southside towards Bloomington (basically, when the Orange Line is no longer sufficient).

    This corridor already hits prime nodes such as Downtown Richfield, close to Kensington Park, close to Oxboro, etc. Imagine how much potential there would be for TOD along the Pleasant Ave corridor in Richfield and Bloomington.

  5. David MarkleDavid Markle

    If all other things are more or less equal, making use of an existing rail right-of-way makes excellent sense if it would fill a need.. But I’d never favor putting LRT on Nicollet Avenue!

    Use of the Soo Line right of way for most of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Green Line should have been a top choice (and may have been, before the short-sighted St. Paul and Ramsey County officials had their way). In fact it would have been better for St. Paul!

  6. Andy E

    Only comment I would have is that I would prefer to see the “Brown Line” turn south after crossing the river and then East on Summit/Grand into DT St Paul. A couple more universities, as well as a brand new neighborhoods would be served. Additionally, it would open up better movement East/West throughout the region by adding a line between the Green Line and the River Corridor.

  7. Lou Miranda

    It seems like putting new rail where old rail was often doesn’t work because our population density hasn’t grown around it.

    Our density—and potential for density, and least amount of NIMBYism—would be where current highways are. Lots of buildable space in parking lots and replacing big box stores.

    Is it so crazy to build a rail system over 50-100 years that uses some of the right-of-way of highways like 62, 100, 169, 36, 280, etc., within the 694/494 loop?

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      Have you not seen the developments along the Blue Line and Green Line? Even the Northstar Line is slowly but surely getting development around stations.

      And where would you rather live; next to a freeway with traffic noise at all hours, or a rail line with a train at most every 5-10 minutes and not operating overnight?

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