Lost Railways of the Twin Cities

Previously I posted about abandoned railways repurposed as trails (rail-trails) and trails that lie alongside active rail lines (rails-with-trails) in the Twin Cities. For this post I’ll focus on abandoned railroad corridors in the Twin Cities which have been mostly wiped out of existence by human activity (agriculture, development, etc.). While these corridors have trails on certain segments, they’re very short in length and typically dead-end in random spots.

A surprising number of railways once existed in the Twin Cities. There were railyards in the North Loop, Warehouse District, and Downtown East areas of Minneapolis. Tracks to the former Milwaukee Road Depot, now repurposed as a hotel, cut between Washington Avenue and 2nd Street, and along what is now West River Parkway were tracks serving the Great Northern Depot, located where the Federal Reserve now stands. To make this post shorter and simpler, I decided to only focus on rail lines that covered a significant distance, at least 5 miles.

In addition to the large network of regular railways, a streetcar system served the Twin Cities from 1888 until it was shut down in 1954. At its peak this network stretched from Excelsior to Stillwater, and from Inver Grove Heights to White Bear Lake. Most of this network was on streets, however, so I decided to only focus on routes with a significant length of dedicated right-of-way.

I will give a brief history of each rail line, the railroad(s) that owned it, and when it was abandoned. These railways may be difficult to imagine today because of dramatic changes in their surroundings, so I have included some historic aerial photos, present-day aerial photos, photos from Google Maps and Street View, and my own photos from explorations of these railways.

While walking or biking along rail-trails and rail-with-trails I found there to be a lack of historic information on the railways. For railways that didn’t have a second life as trails pretty much the only way to find information on them is visiting a historical society or digging deep through the internet. With that in mind, the intention of this post is to provide some general information on these forgotten railways that helped the Twin Cities grow and prosper. I also want to bring awareness to the lost opportunity these railways could have had for public benefit, and the importance of protecting railroad right-of-ways that may someday be abandoned.

Milwaukee Road Hastings & Dakota (H&D) Northern Route

The Milwaukee Road had a secondary route that bypassed the congested rail yards in Minneapolis and St. Paul. This route split from their mainline in Cologne and met back up with their mainline in Hastings. From Cologne the H&D went southeast through Chaska, Shakopee, Prior Lake, Lakeville, Farmington and Vermillion.

Abandonment of the H&D was in phases, beginning in the early 1930s with the segment between Farmington and Hastings. The H&D was severed by Highway 212 sometime between 1972 and 1975, and it’s likely this abandonment continued through Chaska and the trestle across the Minnesota River to Shakopee. The portion between Shakopee and Farmington was abandoned in 1979.

By the late 1970s the Milwaukee Road was struggling financially, and many of its low-traffic branch lines and secondary routes were sold off or abandoned. A couple of other Milwaukee Road routes in this post were victims of the Milwaukee Road’s drastic cutbacks in the 1970s.

Aerial photo of Cologne in 1979. Near the bottom-center of the image Highway 212 cuts through the H&D’s right-of-way. Source: Carver County.
Same location in 2020. The Milwaukee Road’s mainline (now owned by the Twin Cities & Western Railroad) can clearly be seen while the H&D right-of-way is a lot less visible. Source: Carver County.
The building on the left was Chaska’s railroad depot, and today it’s a wine shop. Until the 1970s two railroads crossed at the Chaska Depot. The grassy area in between the depot and parked cars was railroad right-of-way owned by the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway, and it was abandoned by Union Pacific in 2011. The H&D went from left to right at an angle. Source: Google Street View.
Aerial image from 1945 with Chaska’s depot in the center of the image. From the west the H&D curves around downtown Chaska and goes southeast. Source: Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online.
Same view today. The H&D’s right-of-way is gone, and the Union Pacific right-of-way that was abandoned in 2011 is becoming less visible. Source: Google Earth.
Near the Carver County Government Center in Chaska is a dilapidated trestle that was once part of the H&D. Until sometime in the 1980s this was used as part of a trail to Shakopee, but the trestle across the Minnesota River (not the same trestle in the photo) was determined to be in unsafe condition and was torn down sometime in the 1990s. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
On the Shakopee side of the river a trail follows the H&D for a couple of miles, then veers right before reaching the bank of the Minnesota River. If you’re feeling adventurous you can continue on the abandoned part of the rail-trail to the Minnesota River, but you’ll need to do some bushwhacking. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
The bridge abutment on the Chaska side of the Minnesota River. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
The H&D’s embankment has had quite the erosion in this spot. This is looking northwest towards Chaska. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
Downtown Shakopee in 1945. From the left the H&D follows the city’s grid pattern, but then near the center of the image it turns southeast and goes through the grid at a 45 degree angle. Source: Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online.
Same area in 2018. In the center-right of the image a little trace of the right-of-way can be seen, which is used by overhead wires. Source: Google Earth.
On Prior Lake a seemingly random peninsula was part of the H&D. A trestle across the channel allowed boats to go under the railroad. In 2013 Google Street View even shows rails exposed through the asphalt on Grainwood Circle. Source: Google Maps.
Same location in 1964. Source: Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online.
Slightly visible piers for a trestle across the Credit River in Credit River Township. Here’s the location on Google Maps. Source: Google Maps.
From downtown Lakeville going west a trail follows the H&D’s right-of-way for a short distance. The tracks in the photo are part of the Dan Patch Line. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
In a pub’s parking lot in Farmington these rails are pretty much the only trace of the H&D’s existence east of Hastings. To the right of the picture the H&D crossed the Rock Island Railroad (now Union Pacific). The rails in the photo were used as a connection between the H&D and Rock Island. These rails were still in use until the 1990s, but only for a short distance to serve industries in Farmington. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
At Vermillion Falls Park in Hastings the H&D’s trestle across the Vermillion River is still standing and now used as a trail. Photo by Eric Ecklund.

Milwaukee Road H&D Southern Route

A southern route of the Milwaukee Road’s H&D once ran southwest from Farmington to Kasota via Eureka Township, Elko New Market, Webster, Lonsdale, Montgomery, and Le Center.

This triangle, adjacent to the Dakota County Fairgrounds, was a junction between the southern H&D and the Rock Island Railroad. It allowed Milwaukee Road trains from the west to enter Farmington and continue north towards St. Paul, south towards Owatonna, or east towards Hastings. Source: Google Maps.
Piers for a trestle along the H&D at 240th Street & Highview Avenue in Eureka Township. Photo by Eric Ecklund.

The entire route was abandoned by 1979 along with the rest of the H&D’s northern route. Besides the trestle piers in the above photo, I haven’t found any remaining traces of this railroad’s existence besides a short rail-trail in Elko New Market.

Milwaukee Road Bayport Branch

The Milwaukee Road had another branch line paralleling the St. Croix River from Hastings through Afton, Lakeland, and Bayport. As with the other Milwaukee Road routes, this was abandoned in 1979.

A few traces of the Bayport Branch exist. A trail uses the right-of-way for a couple of miles east of Highway 61, and the trail continues off the right-of-way to downtown Prescott. A trail through Afton State Park also uses the right-of-way, and if you look closely you can even see railroad ties embedded in the dirt and gravel. Within Bayport, broken and rusty rails parallel active tracks owned by Union Pacific. Those rusty rails were part of the Bayport Branch, and more than 40 years later remain in place.

Barely visible railroad ties in Afton State Park. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
The tracks on the left are still used by Union Pacific, while the tracks on the right were part of the Milwaukee Road’s Bayport Branch. This is just south of Andersen Windows in Bayport. The sign in the background reads “Junction One Mile,” indicating where the Milwaukee Road’s tracks connected with the Chicago & North Western (now Union Pacific) tracks. Photo by Eric Ecklund.

Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway Morton Subdivision

While the right-of-way of this former rail line has been preserved as the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail between Hopkins and Victoria, most of it has vanished between Victoria and Norwood Young America. The Morton Subdivision was a branch line of the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway (M&StL) that began in Hopkins from their mainline and went west to South Dakota. The Chicago & North Western (C&NW) purchased the M&StL in 1960, and in 1980 the C&NW abandoned the segment between Hopkins and Norwood Young America. It was more cost effective to build a new connection with the Milwaukee Road’s mainline and utilize their track.

Aerial photo from 1963 showing the Morton Subdivision crossing the Milwaukee Road in a north-south direction at Norwood Young America. Highway 212 is in the top right. Source: Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online.
Same view in 2023, with the Morton Subdivision’s right-of-way north of the rail connection redeveloped. Source: Google Earth.

Between 1982 and 1984 the C&NW abandoned the rest of the Morton Subdivision. Due to the rail line’s importance in small farming communities for shipping, the Minnesota Valley Regional Railroad Authority purchased the right-of-way and sought a railroad to takeover operations. First was the Minnesota Valley Railroad, and then the Minnesota Central Railroad, neither of which lasted long. The Morton Subdivision struggled to survive and was likely near permanent abandonment, but investment from state and federal sources allowed the Minnesota Prairie Line, a subsidiary of the Twin Cities & Western Railroad, to take over operations in 2002. The subdivision not only survived but is in much better shape than it was in the 1980s and 90s (here’s a video from 1991 showing the poor condition of the tracks back then).

Looking north on the former Morton Subdivision in northern Norwood Young America. I believe the building in the picture was a depot, as it can be seen next to the tracks in old aerial photos. Source: Google Street View.
Although it doesn’t connect to Waconia and Victoria, there is a short trail using the Morton Subdivision right-of-way within Norwood Young America. Source: Google Street View.

Great Northern’s Hutchinson Spur and Twin City Lines to Excelsior

The Great Northern’s branch line to Hutchinson originally went through Hopkins, Minnetonka, Excelsior and Victoria. That route was replaced in 1900 with a new route between Wayzata and St. Bonifacius, and in the present day this is the Dakota Rail Trail. At Carver Park Reserve there’s a short segment of trail near Steiger Lake that uses the former railroad right-of-way.

It might be hard to imagine, but this embankment through Carver Park Reserve had railroad tracks more than a century ago. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
The west end of where the trail joins the former railroad right-of-way in Carver Park Reserve. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
Aerial photo from 1945 showing where the original route and the new route of the Hutchinson Spur split in St. Bonifacius. Source: Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online.
Same location today. The right-of-way was barely visible in 1945, and now it’s almost impossible to see. The new routing, along with most of the Hutchinson Spur, has been preserved as the Dakota Rail Trail. Source: Google Maps.

The original route was abandoned between Excelsior and St. Bonifacius, and the segment between Excelsior and Hopkins was sold to Twin City Lines for streetcar service. East of Hopkins there were already streetcar tracks to Edina, South Minneapolis and points further north and east. The streetcar service was popular for tourists visiting Lake Minnetonka, and with the so-called streetcar boats people could travel on Lake Minnetonka from Excelsior to Big Island and Wayzata. Since most of the route to Excelsior had dedicated right-of-way streetcars could operate at higher speeds than on city streets.

As roads were improved and automobile ownership increased in the early 1930s, the streetcar line was abandoned between Hopkins and Excelsior. Later in the 1940s the segment between Hopkins (pretty much where the new Downtown Hopkins light rail station is located) and the Brookside neighborhood in Edina was abandoned. In 1954 the rest of the route was abandoned along with the entire Twin Cities streetcar system.

Part of this route’s right-of-way was reused for streetcars beginning in the 1970s and continues today as the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line. Another heritage streetcar line operates in Excelsior, but on right-of-way that was owned by the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway (part of the aforementioned Morton Subdivision), whereas Twin City Lines streetcars operated on streets in downtown Excelsior.

1938 aerial photo of France Avenue & 44th Street on the Edina-Minneapolis border. Going west from France Avenue the streetcar line paralleled 44th Street. Source: Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online.
Same location in 1962, with homes and businesses taking over the streetcar’s former right-of-way. Source: Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online.
Looking east along 44th Street with Highway 100 crossing over on a bridge in the distance. I’ve wondered how many of the people who live in the houses on the right know they sit atop a former streetcar line. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
This was the location of Brookside Station, which became the western terminus after the line was abandoned east of Hopkins. It remained the terminus until the entire streetcar system shut down in 1954. The bridge in the background is part of the Dan Patch Line. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
West of 44th Street & Brookside Avenue and along Minnehaha Creek in Edina is a dirt trail occupying the former streetcar right-of-way. Unfortunately it’s a short trail and dead-ends at someone’s backyard. Photo by Eric Ecklund.

Minneapolis Anoka & Cuyuna Range (MA&CR)

Between downtown and Northeast Minneapolis the MA&CR utilized streetcar tracks owned by Twin City Lines, and this route closely followed what is now Metro Transit’s Route 11 bus. The MA&CR then turned west at 30th Avenue & Grand Street, and from Marshall Street going north the MA&CR had dedicated right-of-way closely following East River Road/Coon Rapids Boulevard to what is now Mercy Hospital. From there the MA&CR curved north following 7th Avenue through Anoka. Passenger trains turned onto Main Street and headed into downtown Anoka while freight trains continued north. The MA&CR connected with the Great Northern and Northern Pacific (both now part of BNSF) very close to the present day site of Anoka’s Northstar Line station. The MA&CR then curved southwest and followed the Rum River into downtown Anoka.

In 1939 a tornado in Anoka destroyed part of the MA&CR, so the route was abandoned between there and Fridley. In Fridley the route continued to be used, notably for an ammunition plant (today the site is a bunch of warehouses and Forgotten Star Brewery), and today only a short section of MA&CR track remains in use. The track is located right by BNSF’s Northtown Yard and is used to serve a water treatment facility on the other side of East River Road.

The last segment of active track on the MA&CR, now used by BNSF. These tracks used to continue south and connect with Twin City Lines streetcar tracks to downtown Minneapolis. Source: Google Street View.
This railroad bridge across Highway 10 in Anoka was built after the MA&CR ceased operations, but it’s on the MA&CR’s right-of-way. The bridge was used by Burlington Northern freight trains going into downtown Anoka, and based on aerial photos was abandoned between 1977 and 1985. The bridge was then used as part of a trail until it was demolished a year or two ago. Source: Google Street View.

Minneapolis Filtration Plant Railway

While this railroad didn’t cover a significant distance, it was a unique operation that deserves a mention. A streetcar line ran from the Soo Line (now CPKC Railway) next to Central Avenue & Columbia Parkway in the northeast edge of Minneapolis to the Minneapolis Water Works facility in Columbia Heights. For a short segment trains operated on Central Avenue and then turned northeast operating along Reservoir Boulevard. The connection to the Soo Line allowed it to haul freight, and with a connection to Twin City Lines streetcar service on Central Avenue it also offered passenger service. In 1953 Twin City Lines cut their service south on Central Avenue, which meant the overhead wires that were also used by the Minneapolis Filtration Plant Railway were taken down. That service was shut down with them.

Looking west from Central Avenue on the former Soo Line. The Minneapolis Filtration Plant Railway tracks were on the right and connected with the Soo Line a short distance away. Photo by Eric Ecklund.

Chicago Great Western

Much of the Chicago Great Western (CGW) network was abandoned after the railroad merged with the Chicago & North Western (C&NW) in 1968. The primary reasons for this were lack of freight traffic and redundant routes, but in some circles it’s alleged that the C&NW also wanted to eliminate competitors’ rail lines even if the purchased routes were profitable. Whether that’s true or just a myth is unknown.

The C&NW’s abandonment of the CGW network included many miles in Minnesota, notably what is now the Cannon Valley Trail between Cannon Falls and Red Wing, and the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail between Faribault and Mankato. The primary north-south route for the CGW did not get a second chance at life as a trail. Part of this route was used by passenger trains operating between the Twin Cities and Rochester, and as far as I know the CGW was the only railroad to offer direct passenger rail service between the two.

When MnDOT was studying high speed rail to Rochester from the Twin Cities, utilizing part of the former CGW right-of-way was considered. However, much of the right-of-way was plowed for farming when it was abandoned between 1981 and 1984, so many properties would have to be acquired to rebuild this rail line.

The former CGW right-of-way is still used by Union Pacific between St. Paul and Rosemount to serve refinery facilities. At 140th Street the active tracks end. Source: Google Street View.
South of 140th Street in Rosemount all the way to northern Iowa the CGW right-of-way is abandoned with much of it plowed for farming. The only exception in Minnesota is Randolph, where shortline railroad company Progressive Rail serves the appropriately-named Great Western Industrial Park. Photo by Eric Ecklund.

Twin City Lines Inter-Campus Shuttle

Before the Campus Connector bus service, Twin City Lines operated a streetcar service connecting the East Bank and St. Paul campuses of the University of Minnesota. From Como Avenue & Eustis Street the streetcar line had dedicated right-of-way to the St. Paul campus. There was also a connection with the Minnesota Transfer Railway (now Minnesota Commercial Railway), which allowed Twin City Lines to haul coal to the coal-burning plant at the St. Paul campus.

When I checked out the old right-of-way a few years ago part of it had a path through the woods, and I was pleasantly surprised to see old railroad ties, a platform and steps leading from the platform to Folwell Avenue.

The former streetcar right-of-way, a station platform, and stairs going up to Folwell Avenue in Falcon Heights. This is less than a mile west of the St. Paul campus. Photo by Eric Ecklund.

Milwaukee Road and Twin Lines Deephaven Line

Prior to its use by streetcars, the Deephaven Line was owned by the Milwaukee Road and carried steam locomotives. After the route was purchased by Twin City Lines it was electrified with overhead wires. From Hopkins it branched off of the Twin City Lines route to Excelsior and went northwest through Minnetonka. The route ended next to Saint Louis Bay on Lake Minnetonka in Deephaven. Just as with the route to Excelsior, this was abandoned in the early 1930s.

Part of the streetcar right-of-way in Hopkins is now Junction Road. I’m not sure if the street name refers to the Deephaven and Excelsior streetcar lines connecting near here or if it’s just a coincidence. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
While it’s more of an animal trail than a human one, a person can walk on the former streetcar right-of-way just south of the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail in Minnetonka. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
A much clearer path on the streetcar right-of-way, but still a short trail through neighborhoods in Minnetonka. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
Streetcars once went under this one-lane bridge in Deephaven. The trail isn’t the same as the one in the previous photo, and in the distance it dead-ends in someone’s backyard. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
View of the streetcar right-of-way from the one-lane bridge in Deephaven. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
Streetcars coming to Deephaven terminated their trips at the site of this parking lot near the marina on. Photo by Eric Ecklund.

Twin City Lines to Mahtomedi, White Bear Lake and Stillwater

Another streetcar service popular with tourists, this route operated on East 7th Street from downtown St. Paul and then turned north at Hazel Street. Just south of where it crossed over the tracks of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway (now Union Pacific), streetcars had dedicated right-of-way pretty much the whole way to Mahtomedi via North St. Paul. In Mahtomedi the route split into three, with one going to White Bear Lake, one to Dellwood and the other to Stillwater. Each route continued on dedicated right-of-way except the route in Stillwater, which was on city streets near and within downtown Stillwater.

In the early 1930s the three branches from Mahtomedi were abandoned. In 1951 this route retreated farther south to the St. Paul city limits. By 1953 the rest of the route was abandoned, along with the entire streetcar network in St. Paul. Most of the right-of-way is gone, but a few short segments, notably along Furness Parkway, were converted to trails.

Looking south where the streetcar line joined Hazel Street. In the bottom right of the photo is a wooden stump that I’m pretty sure long ago was a pole that held the streetcar’s overhead wires. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
Trail bridge across Union Pacific tracks connecting Hazel Street and Furness Parkway. The trail bridge was built slightly higher than the original streetcar bridge so there would be higher clearance for freight trains. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
Looking north from where the streetcar tracks crossed Maryland Avenue. Today this is the southern end of the Furness Trail. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
Aerial photo from 1936 showing Wildwood Amusement Park, which was built on the southern shore of White Bear Lake. This is where the streetcar line split into three routes. Along the southern edge of the amusement park you can see the route to White Bear Lake, and in the upper right corner you can see where streetcars went north to Dellwood and east to Stillwater. Source: Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online.
Same location in 2023. Source: Google Earth.
The southern end of the appropriately-named Streetcar Trail, which goes approximately one mile through Mahtomedi. Source: Google Street View.

Northern Pacific Stillwater Branch

This route branched off of the Northern Pacific’s Skally Line in downtown White Bear Lake and went east to downtown Stillwater. It followed the northern shore of White Bear Lake, and ran next to the northern terminus of the Twin City Lines streetcar service in Dellwood. At a location called Duluth Junction the Stillwater Branch crossed tracks owned by the Soo Line (now the Gateway State Trail), and east of Duluth Junction the route of the Stillwater Branch is now the Brown’s Creek State Trail.

Towards the end of the Stillwater Branch’s life it was only used to serve small industries in downtown Stillwater, Oak Park Heights, and Andersen Windows in Bayport. While the Allen S. King Power Plant in Oak Park Heights could’ve given the Stillwater Branch a big boost with coal traffic, that was taken care of by the Chicago & North Western on a different route. Union Pacific now fills that niche. In 1982 the Stillwater Branch was abandoned, and the right-of-way between White Bear Lake and Duluth Junction is mostly gone.

For nearly a mile through Mahtomedi a dirt trail follows the Stillwater Branch’s right-of-way. On the right is Briarwood Avenue. Photo by Eric Ecklund.
Somewhere in this spot on the Mahtomedi-Dellwood border was the northern terminus of the TCRT’s route to Dellwood, and adjacent to it was the Northern Pacific’s Stillwater Branch. This is looking east from Briarwood Avenue & Quail Street. Photo by Eric Ecklund.

Northern Pacific Taylors Falls Branch

This was another branch line off the Northern Pacific’s Skally Line. From Wyoming it went east to Taylors Falls via Chisago City and Lindstrom. A notable locomotive that operated on the Taylors Fall Branch was Northern Pacific #328, which was displayed in downtown Stillwater after the Taylors Falls Branch was abandoned in 1938. Years later #328 was restored and operated many excursion trips around Minnesota until 1999. Today it’s stored at the Jackson Street Roundhouse in St. Paul.

Aerial photo from 1938 showing the east-west Taylors Falls Branch connecting with the north-south Skally Line in Wyoming. Source: Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online.
Closeup view in 1960 where the junction of the Taylors Falls Branch with the Skally Line was located. Source: Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online.
Area of the junction in 2023. Source: Google Earth.

Replaced Railroad Alignments

BNSF’s Wayzata Subdivision handles long and heavy freight trains that can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour. Between Wayzata and Minneapolis, the subdivision has been realigned. The original alignment, which was built by a predecessor railroad to the Great Northern, winded through Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka. In addition to a winding route, lightweight iron rails were used for a single-track rail line. The new route that became the Wayzata Subdivision is straighter, flatter, uses heavy steel rails, and had two mainline tracks (the second mainline track was removed in the late 1980s). While it’s been more than a century since the original alignment between Minneapolis and Wayzata was replaced, there are a few spots where the old railroad grade can still be found. More information on this route can be found here.

From Minnetonka going west the Milwaukee Road also originally had a winding route that was replaced with a straighter route, which had two mainline tracks all the way between the Twin Cities and Aberdeen, South Dakota. Most of the second mainline track was removed during World War II. While the original alignment was abandoned more than a century ago, you can still see parts of it if you look close with aerial photos, or even on the ground where a couple of trails have been established on the former railroad grade. A notable example is a trail that cuts across Shady Oak Lake.

The original mainline of the Milwaukee Road across the middle of Shady Oak Lake in Minnetonka. Until the 1930s or 1940s there were active tracks here, which were used in the winter for railcars getting loaded with ice blocks from the lake. Photo by Eric Ecklund.

Mapping the Lost Railways

To give a more clear picture of the route of these railways I mapped them out using Google Maps. This was made a lot easier by historic aerial photos from Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online, Historic Aerials Viewer, Hennepin County Aerial Imagery Viewer, Carver County, Anoka County Parcel Viewer and Ramsey County. In the case of mapping the original alignments of the Great Northern and Milwaukee Road it was difficult as these routes were abandoned when aerial photography was just beginning, so I wasn’t able to fully map out those routes. My map isn’t 100% accurate, but it should give a pretty good idea of where these railways were located.

In terms of information on abandonment dates, most of it is secondhand knowledge I’ve gotten from local railroad groups, but this website from the Minnesota Historical Society also helped. For streetcar line abandonment dates the Minnesota Streetcar Museum’s Facebook page was a huge help.

Preserving the Past for the Future

Most of these abandoned railways have at least one short trail, but in many cases either the railways were abandoned before rail-trails took off or there was a lack of public and/or political will to preserve these routes when they were abandoned. We know that trails like the Midtown Greenway, a flat trail with sparse road crossings, can serve as pedestrian and bicycle highways popular for recreation and even commuting.

As I did my research for this post I often thought of the huge lost opportunities presented by these railways. Any of them could have become popular rail-trails connecting communities currently short on infrastructure for pedestrians and bikers (especially in suburban, exurban and rural areas). Although the railways mentioned in this post may not be able to be brought back as rail-trails along their entire route, it should be a priority to preserve what’s left of their right-of-way and take advantage of it for trails. In addition, it’s important to keep an eye on existing railways that may be abandoned in the near future and make sure steps are taken to preserve their right-of-way for trails and/or transit.

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.