Passenger rail conversation picks up speed

The possibility of passenger rail chugged forward through the kickoff of public engagement process at a July 25 meeting. The purpose of the meeting was simple: to seek comments on the general idea of passenger rail in Edina.
“We really want to make sure the public knew what the study was about,” Edina Transportation Planner Mark Nolan said.
More than 180 people attended the meeting, which included informational boards that were set around the Public Works building and facilitated discussions to talk about the benefits and issues of passenger rail.
There is not an official proposal yet, so information ran the gamut from street cars to light rail to heavy freight trains.
Some of the pros discussed included connecting Edina to the core cities and providing another mode of transportation in the city.
“There is a lot of congestion in and around the cities,” Nolan said. “We can’t widen highways, and that doesn’t work in the long run anyway.”
There are also associated benefits, including market incentives for redevelopment along stations in Edina, which could be beneficial to the local economy.
Adversely, some people who were directly adjacent to the line were concerned about noise and safety concerns at crossings. The cost and who would be paying for the potential project in whatever form it could take was also a big concern and lingering question.
Any of the options, whether it be a light rail spur to a project connecting to Northfield, would be at least 10 years out due to the design process and funding cycles.
Nolan said they aimed to clear up misconceptions at the meeting and continue to push back on rumors surrounding passenger rail.
“There is an assumption that we have already decided on passenger rail and we are doing [these meetings] just to check a box off,” Nolan said. “We truly don’t have an official proposal.”
The Dan Patch Electric Railroad ran from Minneapolis to Northfield, including the four-mile stretch that runs north-south through Edina, from 1910 to 1942. It is now referred to as the Canadian Pacific Railway, and approximately two freight trains operated by the Twin Cities and Western Railroad run each day. TC&W may be increasing to four trains per day through Edina.
The passenger rail conversation was spurred in 1999 when MnDOT identified the Dan Patch line as a commuter rail corridor that could connect Lakeville to Minneapolis. At the time, it was prioritized as the third of three planned commuter rail lines by the Metropolitan Council.
In 2001, a report
commissioned by Dakota County recommended not to move forward with passenger rail on the Dan Patch line, citing costs for improving right-of-way and operations.
Following the report, the state Legislature adopted a gag rule that prohibited the Met Council, MnDOT and regional rail authorities from taking any action or spending any money for study, planning, design or construction of the rail line.
Since then, costs have decreased, and the Dan Patch line continues to be noted as a possible track for future passenger rail, including being named in the 2010 and draft 2015 Statewide Rail Plan as a line from the metro to Mankato for construction in 20 years, although that proposal is as preliminary as any other.
Some residents and city staff members have continued to express interest in passenger rail in Edina, especially considering the potential to link up to the extended Southwest Light Rail that will run immediately north and west of the city.
According to the request for proposal for passenger rail exploration, city staff members have received almost daily questions and requests on the topic of future passenger rail service.
In April 2016, the city council directed the Edina Transportation Commission to review and recommend whether or not the city should assume a position in favor of passenger rail.
Another misconception was that this current process is considering the exact same project proposal from 2001, which was similar to the Northstar line that runs in the north metro and exurbs to Minneapolis.
Nolan said they would love to continue to hear from residents about passenger rail, especially those who are undecided.
The next meeting is Thursday, Sept. 7 and conversations that took place this past Tuesday will be reviewed.
There is also an online survey available at EdinaMN.gov/passenger-rail-report along with information on the different types of passenger rail.
Other smaller focus group meetings, which could involve people who live on the line as well as businesses and neighboring transportation authorities, are pending but notifications will be sent out for those that sign up through the project website.
“I encourage people to tell us what they think,” Nolan said. “We really want to reach those folks that don’t know what is going on. We are just trying to provide information, not make up their minds for them.”
After consultants review all of the survey findings, the results and recommendations will be presented at an October city council meeting.