Thursday, March 1, 2018

Returning to the rails in South Dakota

sd-existing-cities-2017-01-06 by Michael Hicks, on Flickr
South Dakota is the only state among the lower 48 that has never had Amtrak service. The last regularly-operated passenger trains ran left the state in 1969.
Following an extended hiatus to surf the torrent of government news these days, I'm back with another set of maps to explain the current situation with passenger rail in the U.S. and a possible vision for the future. This time, I'm focusing on our neighbor to the southwest, South Dakota. For my previous posts on this topic, as well as some in-progress maps for other states, see this list. Below, I'll talk about former service in the state and several suggestions on what I feel are the best opportunities to bring it back.

The current status for passenger rail in South Dakota is simple to convey: There isn't any. There is at least one heritage railroad operation (the Black Hills Central Railroad is most well-known), but there aren't any true intercity train routes, making South Dakota unique among the states. The nearest Amtrak routes are the Empire Builder running to the north through Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota, and the California Zephyr running to the south through Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa.

South Dakota is the only state among the lower 48 that has never had Amtrak service. The last passenger route ended operation in 1969, two years before Amtrak took over the most of the remaining passenger routes in the country. Wyoming, South Dakota's neighbor to the west, is the only other state among the lower 48 to lack passenger trains today, though it did have them for several years in the Amtrak era when the San Francisco Zephyr ran through the state. Even Alaska has passenger service through the Alaska Railroad.

Like other parts of the country, South Dakota's rail system peaked in the early 20th century. About 4,420 miles of railroad have been constructed in the state through its history, but most of that has been abandoned. The state still had 1,753 miles of railroad as of 2012, a little over half as much as North Dakota, and about 39% of the rail mileage of Minnesota.

Map of South Dakota's rail system as of 2014 (source)
Sioux Falls is South Dakota's largest city, but unlike other states which tend to have many routes radiating from the most-populated places, there are relatively few ways to get directly in and out of the city today. The most significant existing east-west rail routes pass to the north or south, and even in the past, significant long-distance routes into and through the state bypassed Sioux Falls.

For instance, the Chicago and North Western Railway ran passenger service from Chicago as far west as Rapid City, near the Black Hills, but their route went north of Sioux Falls, through Brookings, Huron, and Pierre. That route had passenger service into South Dakota until 1960, when it was cut back to Mankato, Minnesota, and then it ceased passenger operation entirely in 1964.

One of the last lines to serve the state ran even farther north. It was a shortened route on the former Milwaukee Road transcontinental service to the Pacific Northwest, the Olympian Hiawatha. That train, which once ran from Chicago to Seattle/Tacoma, was cut back to Deer Lodge, Montana in 1961, then cut back again to Aberdeen, SD in 1964 (the largest city on the route between the Twin Cities and Billings, Montana).

With such a small endpoint, that service only lasted another 5 years. Passenger service exited South Dakota entirely in April 1969. There was also a Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad line that operated through the extreme southwest corner of the state via Edgemont, and it ended passenger service through the state a few months later in August.

It appears that the last train to serve Sioux Falls was a branch of the Milwaukee Road's Arrow service that primarily ran from Chicago to Omaha, Nebraska. The line branched off in the small town of Manilla, Iowa. It dropped service to Sioux Falls in 1965, then was discontinued entirely two years later.

sd-full-cities-2017-01-08 by Michael Hicks, on Flickr
A suggested system of routes to connect all cities larger than 5,000 people in South Dakota and into surrounding states (zoom in on South Dakota, or see other states here).
It's a bit strange to me that South Dakota was stuck with this fate. I think it has a lot to do with a Chicago-centric focus by the freight railroads, neglecting the need for more local travel. According to a 1957 timetable, it took 17 hours and 25 minutes to take the Arrow from Chicago to Sioux Falls, on a line that skipped past both Des Moines and Omaha and went through much smaller communities instead.

South Dakota's population has grown by about 48% from 1970 to today, so the overall travel market is significantly bigger than it was when the last services disappeared from the state.

Above, I have a map of routes that I think would be good to look at reactivating with passenger service. All of the blue lines are existing freight routes, most of which had some form of passenger service in the past. The purple routes are mostly along former rail lines that have now been abandoned, but I invented a few routes that would be brand-new.

Unlike the cities in North Dakota, which are mostly laid out along two major east-west lines, the communities in South Dakota are much more scattered around, making it difficult to thread a single route through multiple cities. In mapping out possibilities, I've tried to stick to existing rail corridors as much as possible, followed by former routes, and adding routes of my own invention as a last resort. The scattered pattern of cities in South Dakota has made this one of the more challenging maps for me to put together.

Rather than relying on long-distance routes going all the way to Chicago, I feel it would be better for new services to focus on shorter routes, especially those that have relatively large cities within about 6-8 hours of travel time from Sioux Falls. A couple longer routes might also make sense.

High-priority corridors would include Sioux Falls to Omaha via Sioux City, Sioux Falls to the Twin Cities (a few routes available, my preference would be to go via Mankato), and Sioux Falls to Fargo (the best existing route is via Willmar, Minnesota, though it could be shortened somewhat by building some lines closer to the Interstate 29 corridor).

Rapid City in the western part of the state is South Dakota's second-largest city, and is a major gateway to the Black Hills region. This part of the state is closer to Denver than it is to the Twin Cities, so service heading south/southwest toward Colorado would be good to examine, as well as connections to Cheyenne, Wyoming, that state's capital and largest city. The rail line through Pierre and Rapid City comes to an end at Colony, Wyoming (not shown on the map), which makes it impossible to directly reach cities farther west. I suggest building a new line from around Whitewood, South Dakota to Moorcroft, Wyoming (a distance of about 80 miles), which would allow direct access from the Rapid City area into southern Montana.

sd-railmap-sioux-falls-2018-02-25 by Michael Hicks, on Flickr
Close-up of suggested routes around Sioux Falls, including parts of South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Unfortunately, direct routes to many of the nearest significant cities have seen major abandonments.

Within South Dakota, there's some potential for routes radiating outward from Sioux Falls to smaller cities, though they would have to be mostly rebuilt or built from scratch. Lines southwest from Sioux Falls to Yankton and west to Mitchell have been almost completely ripped up, and it appears that there has never been a line going all the way from Sioux Falls north to Brookings. Trains could get about 60% of the way by following existing and abandoned track, but the remaining part would need to be built new.

There's never been a direct line between Mitchell and Huron either. Instead, there's a route that runs somewhat west through the town of Wolsey. A more direct link would be better, though a bus or rail shuttle between Wolsey and Wolsey and Huron could be used as an interim solution. A former route between Brookings and Watertown that looks appealing has also been abandoned.

Out west, the story is somewhat better, since Rapid City directly connects to Sturgis and Belle Fourche. The nearby town of Spearfish is the largest city in South Dakota that lacks any sort of rail service. It could be connected by the potential new route between Whitewood, SD and Moorcroft, WY, that I suggested earlier.

The places larger than 5,000 people in South Dakota add up to about 51% of the state's population.

Smack in the middle of South Dakota is the state capital, Pierre. It is the second-smallest state capital in the country by population, with around 14,000 residents. Only Montpelier, Vermont is smaller, though amazingly enough, Montpelier has Amtrak service. Of course, New England has many small towns, so Montpelier is far less isolated. Pierre is more than 115 miles from Huron, the nearest town of more than 5,000 people. It obviously doesn't have any Amtrak service today, though the city does rely on Essential Air Service subsidies to connect airline passengers to Denver.

The small populations of Pierre and Montpelier are one reason why I have used a threshold of 5,000 residents when making my rail maps. I think state capitals are places that are significant enough to warrant rail service, even if such service might not pencil out in standard benefit-cost analyses. That said, it makes sense to set up the best service possible. Since South Dakota's two largest cities are on opposite sides of the state, it would make sense to have a line running from Rapid City to Sioux Falls via Pierre.

However, as I mentioned above, there are relatively poor connections into Sioux Falls along east-west routes. The current line through Pierre is operated by the Rapid City, Pierre and Eastern Railroad (RCP&E), but the shortest path from Sioux Falls from Pierre by existing rails today is a strange zig-zag path to Wolsey, then running on BNSF Railway tracks south and east through Mitchell to the small town of Canton by the Iowa border before making a sharp 300°-plus turn back to enter the city via the suburb of Harrisburg.

At least one significant segment of rail would need to be built or rebuilt to make Sioux Falls directly accessible from the west or northwest. One interesting possibility is to use a line that roughly parallels Interstate 90, which is operated by the Dakota Southern Railway. The rail line is owned by the state, but operation of trains on the route is contracted out. There has never been a direct connection to Pierre from that line, but making one would leverage state-owned infrastructure.

However, using that line would require building new tracks both near Pierre and again between Mitchell and Sioux Falls (a little over 100 miles total), so a route from Pierre via the RCP&E is probably more practical. A former rail bed running 30 miles from Lake Preston (about halfway between Huron and Brookings) down to Madison is probably a better solution for connecting Pierre to South Dakota's largest city.

The line through Pierre could also be used as a through route for trains running from the Twin Cities to Denver. Notably, Denver is the second-most common destination for travelers flying out of MSP Airport, after Chicago. At about 1,000 miles, it could take 16 to 20 hours for a conventional train service to travel the distance, so a train may not draw many travelers going end-to-end, though it could be a good alternative for people only going 1/3 to 1/2 the distance. For instance, flying from Pierre to the Twin Cities is time-consuming today, taking at least 5 hours, since all travelers must go through Denver first.

Another interesting long-distance possibility is to restore passenger service along the former Milwaukee Road Olympian Hiawatha route through northern South Dakota, southwestern North Dakota, and into Montana. Unfortunately, this is a low-population route, but it would provide coverage through a little-served area and would be an alternative for anyone traveling from the Twin Cities into southern Montana, though that would be a fairly low priority, in my book.

If all of the lines I suggest in my map were to be put to use, about 1,525 miles of existing track would see passenger service reactivated, and another 375 miles would be built or rebuilt, for a system total of about 1,900 miles. However, my map includes some redundant or indirect routes that could be eliminated to shrink down the total.

Adding passenger rail service is a challenge everywhere in the U.S., and South Dakota has some of the biggest challenges due to being a low-population state that has been without passenger trains for nearly 50 years. Still, I think there's a strong case for at least linking Sioux Falls into the Amtrak system. With some effort, a good in-state rail system could be built, likely better than what had been available for state residents even at the height of rail travel in the country. A focus on short- to medium-distance travel would likely bring the greatest benefit, though it will also require a lot of cooperation surrounding states to fully exploit the possibilities that exist today.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The stagnant investment in Amtrak, by station count

Amtrak, the country's intercity passenger rail company, has had its funding stuck in the doldrums ever since it was founded in 1971. There have been sporadic bursts of money to the government-sponsored company, mostly to invest in new locomotives and train cars and the occasional upgrade to the tracks on particular routes. However, there hasn't been a sustained effort to repair and expand underlying infrastructure on a system-wide basis. This is reflected in the fact that the number of stations served by Amtrak has barely changed over time, in stark contrast to the growth in urban rail systems over the same period.

The graph above shows the number of stations for both Amtrak and the nation's urban rail systems from 1984 to 2014. Over the course of 30 years, urban transit systems grew from 1,822 stations to 3,355, an increase of 84%. Growth in urban systems been pretty linear, with about 51 stations added per year on average.

Meanwhile, Amtrak began the period with 510 stations and ended with just 518, an aggregate increase of just 1.6%. Amtrak's station count has fluctuated more than that over time, with the system reaching a low of 487 stations in 1987 and attaining a peak of 542 stations in 1996. It's a bit difficult to explain why Amtrak has been stuck in this rut for so many years while there has been a sustained investment in local rail service within metropolitan areas, but there has been a lack of coordination for new or restored routes in most of the country.

The United States' population grew from 238.5 million to 318.9 million over that period of time, so Amtrak's reach should have enlarged too. If Amtrak had grown at the same rate as our urban transit systems, there would have been about 940 stations in their system as of 2014. That doesn't necessarily mean the system would have 84% more mileage, though: One of Amtrak's biggest failings is that most routes only have one train per direction per day. Increasing service frequency could allow a mix of local all-stop trains and faster limited-stop trains along a single route, with the local trains potentially serving new/restored infill stations along the way. (Many Amtrak trains today are essentially "hybrids" of what used to exist, stopping more frequently than old express services, but less often than what locals used to do.)

Each new or enhanced route requires the involvement of multiple cities and metropolitan areas, so it needs to at least be coordinated at a state level, and many good potential routes (even if they're fairly short) are spread across two or more states. Amtrak is structured so that individual states are responsible for planning and finding funding for routes that are less than about 700 miles (following legislative changes passed in 2008, the states can still get federal funding for building lines, but operational costs must be borne by the states for these shorter "corridor" routes). That creates a disincentive for the company to pursue new routes on its own, since adding even a single new train on a 700+ mile route is very expensive (hundreds of millions of dollars if the PRIIA studies from 2009 are any guide).

What's the right way to coordinate new intercity train lines in the country? The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) played a critical role in organizing planning across states when the highway system was developed (back before "and Transportation" was added to the group's name), but it's not clear if they've ever had much of a hand in planning rail service. Their Standing Committee on Rail Transportation meets once a year for what they describe as a "debrief and networking meeting", which sounds like a very passive group (plus, the committee only has members from 33 states versus the 46 that are currently served by Amtrak). AASHTO should take their interstate coordinating role seriously and reexamine the potential for intercity rail across the U.S.

Here in Minnesota, we've also had a very weak structure for coordinating intercity rail plans. The state's Passenger Rail Office has been underfunded and understaffed, requiring a heavy reliance on outside consultants rather than MnDOT employees tasked with working in the best interest of the state. The Republican-held state legislature is attempting to entirely defund the office as part of the state budget, even though it has only represented a tiny percentage of MnDOT expenditures over its existence (a couple million dollars per year), and it's particularly galling to have it happen when the state is projected to have a $1.65 billion surplus anyway.

The employees of the Passenger Rail Office also have an essential role in helping lead monthly meetings of the Intercity Passenger Rail Transportation Forum, composed of stakeholders along the routes that are supposed to see passenger service added under the state rail plan. Defunding the Passenger Rail Office would probably stall out plans for future lines within the state, and we're far behind where we should be on implementing that plan.

Intercity trains don't get the same attention that urban rail systems do, and I find that to be a shame, since I think it makes it a lot harder for many people to give up their cars, even in cities with good transit service. I personally hold on to my car due to my need to travel to areas in or near Fargo, Eau Claire, and Rochester for family and work, and all of those places would get rail service if we implemented the plan that's been on the books since 2010.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Potential paths for passenger rail in North Dakota

My last few posts have looked at the rail networks in Minnesota and Wisconsin to look for opportunities for adding passenger service where little or none exists today. I also examined the system in Norway, a country with a similar population to Minnesota and Wisconsin, yet with a much more functional and robust intercity public transportation system than can be found almost anywhere in the United States.

This time I'm taking a look at North Dakota, one of our neighbors to the west and a state which also lies along the route of the Empire Builder, Amtrak's only service through our two states. Despite having only about 1/7th the population of Minnesota, North Dakota still has a huge 3,480-mile rail network as of 2014. That's 78% the size of Minnesota's system (4,444 miles), 97% as big as Wisconsin's (3,600 miles), and 137% the size of Norway's rail network (2,540 miles). That's really remarkable for a place with only about 757,000 people.

combined-2-existing-cities by Michael Hicks, on Flickr
Map of existing passenger train service in North Dakota and nearby areas.

The map above shows the route the Empire Builder takes as it crosses through the region, with markers showing cities of 5,000 people and up. Only 12 cities in North Dakota are that large:
(2015 est.)
Fargo115,863Served by Amtrak
Grand Forks56,057Served by Amtrak
Minot47,997Served by Amtrak
West Fargo31,771Fargo metro area
Williston24,562Served by Amtrak
Devils Lake7,288Served by Amtrak
Valley City6,676

Amtrak serves five of those cities (Fargo, Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Minot, and Williston) plus two other smaller towns (Rugby, pop. 2,846, and Stanley, pop. 2,721).

The sparse nature of North Dakota is one reason why I used the 5,000-person population as a threshold for making my maps for this series of articles—you need to go that low to get more than ten cities of sufficient size in this part of the country. Remarkably, the twelve cities in that table account for 56% of the people in North Dakota (you only need to go down to number 8, Mandan, to exceed 50%), showing that even heavily rural states still concentrate people into a small number of places.

Incidentally, the encampments of people who have been demonstrating against the Dakota Access Pipeline could add up to another "city" meeting the threshold for my maps. Tribal leaders said that the camps had seen more than 10,000 people, though they're likely shrinking now following the announcement on December 4th that an easement had been denied for the pipeline's final segment. The camps are located along the Cannonball River near where it meets the Missouri River (about halfway between Bismarck and the border with South Dakota).
Map of North Dakota's rail system, from the 2007 state rail plan.
The huge existing freight network in North Dakota provides a lot of possibilities for rebuilding a passenger rail system in the state. Conveniently, the larger cities are mostly laid out along two corridors: The existing Empire Builder line, closely mirrored by U.S. Highway 2, and another corridor heading straight west from Fargo, once operated by the Northern Pacific Railway, now mirrored by Interstate 94.

Northern Pacific operated a few passenger trains on their mainline, one of which was the North Coast Limited, one of the many routes that was discontinued in 1971 when Amtrak took over nearly all intercity train service in the country. However, an "experimental" train service that Amtrak called the North Coast Hiawatha was brought back on the same route later that same year. Unfortunately, it was only a half-hearted attempt, since the train only ran three times weekly per direction for most of its existence (aside for a few peak summertime travel seasons when it operated daily). The line was finally dropped in 1979 after a round of federal budget cuts for Amtrak.

That's likely the best corridor to add back as a passenger line in the state, since it connects several larger communities. Amtrak studied restoring the North Coast Hiawatha back in 2009, something that was mandated under the previous year's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Of course, no funding for implementation ever followed, so the report is now gathering dust. Nonetheless, it gives some guidance as to what the challenges would be for bringing back service along that corridor.

Restoring passenger trains on the line would reconnect Fargo to Valley City, Jamestown, Bismarck, Mandan, and Dickinson, and it would be worth considering having it head south from Fargo to reach Breckenridge/Wahpeton to completely reconnect the state's larger towns.

However, it would be best to go beyond simply adding that second route through the state. Today's Empire Builder only serves Fargo and Grand Forks in the extreme early morning hours, and Amtrak's North Coast Hiawatha study also planned to stop in most North Dakota destinations between midnight and 7 a.m., which is not a pleasant time to be arriving or departing. Proper service during daylight hours would be much better for the state.

I think it would be best to add a few more routes to build up a mesh of lines. Below is a map of routes in North Dakota and nearby areas that I think would likely have the greatest chance of success, if proper investments were made and trains ran a few times a day, and not just at night or early in the morning:

nd-combined-2-full-cities by Michael Hicks, on Flickr
A map of suggested improvements in North Dakota. Zoomable version.

If there were only the two east-west routes, people wishing to travel from Bismarck to Minot (for instance) would have to circle all the way through Fargo and Grand Forks, or possibly go west to somewhere in Montana in order to make a transfer. However, there are some decent options for shortcuts that could be considered.

On this map, I included a route from Jamestown to Minot which would help with that situation. Transferring in Jamestown would shorten a Bismarck–Minot trip by about 210 miles. There's also a rail line heading almost straight north from Bismarck and nearly reaching Minot, but it falls about 27 miles short. Filling in that gap would shorten a Bismarck–Minot trip by over 340 miles.

I also tried to make a few reasonable guesses as to what might work for cross-border lines into South Dakota and Canada. Much of South Dakota's population is in the eastern 1/3rd of the state, so it makes the most sense to try and run lines south from Fargo, Wahpeton, and Jamestown. However, significant pieces of the lines that formerly ran north and south have been abandoned, so they would be more costly to bring back.

A former transcontinental route built by the Milwaukee Road cuts through the southwestern corner of North Dakota. That's a fairly low-population route, and would probably be a low priority, but it would help connectivity through Aberdeen, South Dakota, that state's third-largest city.

Fargo and Grand Forks line up well for facilitating a corridor toward Winnipeg in Manitoba. Unfortunately, a short stretch of track that used to run straight into Canada near Pembina, ND has been abandoned. I included a suggestion in the map to build a short new connection via the existing border crossing between Noyes, Minnesota and Emerson, Manitoba. Reaching Winnipeg would allow a connection to Canada's passenger rail system, such as it is. Two services currently operate to and through Winnipeg: Via Rail's Toronto-to-Vancouver Canadian and the Winnipeg-Churchill train, which ends in a small town far north on the shore of Hudson Bay. Those services only operate two or three times per week, however.

Further west, Canadian Pacific has a mainline connection running from Minot northwest into Saskatchewan. The line heads toward Moose Jaw, though building a stretch of connecting track to another parallel line about 30 miles away could redirect trains to the provincial capital of Regina, a significantly larger destination.

Finally, one major disadvantage with the existing freight network in North Dakota is that it's primarily designed for feeding agricultural products east and south toward the Twin Cities and Chicago. There aren't many lines that that cut against that grain. I included a suggestion for a line running northeast from Jamestown, which could shorten journeys for people traveling from Bismarck to Grand Forks, for instance, without forcing a transfer in Fargo. However, a route like that would probably be among the lowest priorities for anyone wishing to rebuild a passenger system in the state.

The Empire Builder runs a little over 420 miles through North Dakota. Adding back the North Coast Hiawatha route would add another 374 miles to the roster of active passenger track in the state. All told, my suggested network would add another 939 miles of service along existing track, plus building or restoring tracks along another 194 miles. Along with the existing Empire Builder, that adds up to 1,554 miles. If it were all built, that mean that about 42% of the state's rail network would be supporting passenger service, compared to just 12% today.

Clearly, the biggest bang for the buck would come from restoring service straight west from Fargo along the old Northern Pacific corridor. Amtrak's study from 2009 looked at the whole 2,200-mile route and estimated it would cost a bit over $1 billion to restore once-daily train service over that whole distance (including about $330 million for new train equipment to run over the tracks). That's a heartburn-inducing figure, but things become very costly when talking about such huge distances.

The Dakota Access Pipeline provides an interesting point of comparison, since it is estimated to cost about $3.7 billion over a 1,172-mile route. It is a very different thing from a railroad, but it makes me wonder what we could achieve if similar amounts of money were put into passenger service or improvements for existing freight trains. For instance, $3.7 billion would probably pay for converting 1,500 to 2,000 miles of railroad to electrified service, allowing a substantial number of diesel locomotives to be retired and replaced with more efficient, emission-free units instead.

Hopefully we can turn a corner soon and focus more on moving people rather than petroleum. It's something of a long shot in today's political climate, but something worth thinking about. North Dakota's rail network also seems oversized for a place with its population, so it is a good idea to think about which routes are most important for preservation going forward. There have been many missteps in recent decades where good routes have been prematurely abandoned, so it would be wise to learn from those mistakes and try to make better decisions for the future.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Prospects for passenger rail in Wisconsin

In my most recent two posts, I looked at the opportunities I see for passenger rail in Minnesota followed by an entry examining Norway's passenger rail network to make some comparisons. There are similarities such as the fact that Minnesota and Norway have about the same population and have been growing at about the same rate. Norway has a much bigger and healthier system of passenger train lines than Minnesota does, although we here in the Midwest have far more overall rail mileage installed due to the vast number of freight lines that were built back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This time, I thought I'd turn to our neighbor, Wisconsin, and see what opportunities might exist there. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Wisconsin had been one of the states pushing for expanded passenger rail service in the Midwest, notably leading the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative which was planning several lines radiating out of Chicago which would operate at speeds up to 110 miles per hour.

A couple of these have come to fruition to some extent, such as Amtrak's Chicago–Detroit and Chicago–St. Louis corridor. However, an enhanced-speed extension of train service from Milwaukee to Madison in Wisconsin was canceled after the election of Scott Walker in 2010, and prospects for extending that all the way to the Twin Cities have largely evaporated aside from plans for a second daily train along the route. Even that straightforward idea has taken way too long to be implemented.

Here's a map of existing passenger rail in Wisconsin:

The service that exists today in Wisconsin is very similar to what Amtrak has offered there ever since it was created in 1971. The number of passenger trains per day on the Hiawatha service between Milwaukee and Chicago has increased, but west of Milwaukee, there's only one Empire Builder per direction per day. Chicago's Metra commuter train system also has a little bit of service in Wisconsin, but it only extends about seven miles into the state, ending in Kenosha.

Amtrak operates on only 236 miles out of the state's total of more than 3,600 miles of track—a mere 6.5% of the state's overall rail system.

As in my previous maps, I've included markers for all cities of 5,000 residents or larger. Wisconsin has a population that's a bit more spread out than in Minnesota. Most people in Minnesota live in the Twin Cities region (about three million people), but Milwaukee's metro area is not quite as big (only about two million). The state's largest cities are a more widely distributed, which in a way makes the state better suited for supporting an intercity public transportation network.

Here's a concept map I made that could be used to connect all of Wisconsin's cities of 5,000 and up into a rail network. About ten cities were on abandoned lines or had never been connected to the state's freight network, and those are on lines drawn in purple, indicating that they're on corridors that need to be restored or built new. Blue lines indicate track that is still in active use for freight which I think could have value for passenger service:

Here's a zoomable version of the Wisconsin portion of that map.

That's just one idea out of many possible route combinations for the state, which could grow larger or smaller depending on how things get prioritized. Some of the best corridors on the map include the ill-fated extension to Madison (which would have branched off from the Empire Builder corridor in Watertown) and a route from Milwaukee to Green Bay via the west coast of Lake Winnebago, hitting Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, and Appleton along the way.

An extension of the Metra corridor along the shore of Lake Michigan from Kenosha through Racine to Milwaukee is another no-brainer, and probably something that would have been implemented by now if not for the political machinations of the last decade. A few other radial Metra lines could logically extend into southern Wisconsin heading in the direction of Janesville and Milwaukee's southwestern suburbs and exurbs.

The Milwaukee area retains a fairly robust system of rail lines which could be used for commuter-style service. Madison also has a good potential for lines radiating out, though a few of those have been abandoned over the years. Janesville, the home of U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, doesn't have that many suburbs in its immediate vicinity, but it turns out to be a natural crossing point for a number of lines between other places, and could be a significant passenger rail hub someday.

MnDOT has plans for a regional train service from the Twin Cities to Eau Claire, though it's hard to say when that might move forward. That line could be extended southeast to combine with the existing Amtrak corridor to Milwaukee (owned by Canadian Pacific), though another line toward Appleton and/or Green Bay would also be a good option.

Finally, I'll mention that Wisconsin has ferry services operating on two routes across Lake Michigan. They run from Milwaukee and Manitowoc on the Wisconsin side to Muskegon and Ludington on the Michigan side, respectively. Milwaukee already has passenger rail service, but the other three cities would benefit from being connected to the rail system as well.

Surprisingly, a substantial amount of Wisconsin's rail network is either owned by the state or by other public agencies (primarily shown with outlined orange lines in the above map). Most of this publicly-owned network is operated by the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, including the segment between Watertown and Madison which was set to be upgraded for higher-speed service when the plug was pulled in late 2010. Bizarrely (to me, anyway), the CEO of Wisconsin & Southern found to have been illegally funneling campaign contributions to Scott Walker's campaign in the 2010 election, thereby helping to torpedo the $810 million project that would have directly benefited his railroad. I'm not sure I'll ever wrap my mind around that one.

Wisconsin is fairly well-positioned to take advantage of its rail network for passenger service, if only politics could get out of the way. Hopefully things will change sometime soon, but it's hard to predict when that might happen.

As in Minnesota, Wisconsin's rail network has been shrinking for nearly 100 years since the peak of rail travel back in the 1920s. Many of the lines that were abandoned were deservedly dropped, but some of those lost corridors should have been retained for passenger operation even if they didn't carry much freight. The system is at a much more financially sustainable size now, and is probably close to bottoming in terms of overall mileage, but there's still the potential for critically important segments to be abandoned. That's one reason why it's important for the state to step in and help coordinate the maintenance and use of what is still in place and protect them from being lost to future generations.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Lessons from Norway for passenger rail in Minnesota

A Norwegian State Railways train near the town of Støren on the line to Trondheim. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, by Sveins, CC-BY-SA 3.0)
When talking about expanding passenger train service in Minnesota and other parts of the U.S., it's common to be told that our area of the country has cities that are too small and spread out for it to ever work. Supposedly, only the Northeast and a few other heavily-populated areas have the population and travel demand to support passenger rail. We certainly don't have the same densities as France, Germany, or Japan, but I had a feeling that there are parts of the world are much more similar to Minnesota or other parts of the Midwest, yet have successful rail systems.

I started searching for such places earlier this year, initially looking at our nearest neighbor, Canada. Unfortunately, it turns out that Canadian passenger rail policy has produced a worse overall result than what we've seen here (Via Rail has a network that pales in comparison even to our skeletal Amtrak system, something I hope to delve into in a future article). Eventually, I turned to Europe to see what I could find over there, and discovered that Norway's fits our situation pretty well.

Norway is an interesting place to compare, especially since a sizable chunk of Minnesota's population is descended from people who migrated here from Norway or other Scandinavian countries. (Of course, it's about twice as common for a Minnesotan to be of German heritage rather than Norwegian.)

It turns out that Minnesota and Norway have had similarly-sized populations for the last several decades, and have been growing at similar rates. In fact, Minnesota passed Norway's population around 1981, when Minnesota reached a population over 4.1 million. However, Norway is a lot larger than our fair state: 149,000 square miles (385,000 km2) of land, 1.7 times our 87,000 sq. mi. (225,000 km2). Since Minnesota has a somewhat bigger population, we have an overall density 1.9 times that of Norway.

The country's shape is stretched out compared to our state borders. Most of it is narrower than Minnesota, but Norway is about 1,150 miles end-to-end. Since Minnesota is about 400 miles north-to-south, you'd need to stack nearly three Minnesotas on top of each other to reach Norway's northeastern edge.

If our area can't justify the existence of passenger trains, then surely it doesn't make sense for Norway to have any, right? But in fact, they have a system that is widely used. Here's a map of Norway's passenger rail network along with major cities (5,000 and larger) and other significant municipalities (kommunes):

norway-rail-existing-cities-2016-10-04 by Michael Hicks, on Flickr

Here's the same map with the city markers removed so the lines can be seen more clearly:

norway-rail-existing-nocities-2016-10-04 by Michael Hicks, on Flickr

(A zoomable version is available here.)

The main rail network extends from Bergen and Stavanger in the western part of the country eastward through Oslo and into Sweden, along with two lines that run north from Oslo toward Trondheim. From Trondheim there's one line that extends to Bodø, which lies north of the Arctic Circle. A short stretch of track also connects the city of Narvik even farther north, though the only way to get there by rail from other parts of Norway is to go through Sweden.

Minnesota only has Amtrak's Empire Builder (one daily round-trip) and the Northstar commuter train (six daily round-trips) providing passenger service on the state's intercity rail network, which only adds up to 800,000 or so annual riders (Northstar had 722,600 riders in 2015 according to the APTA, and Amtrak recorded 138,631 boardings+alightings for the year, but that double-counts some people and doesn't count others who rode straight on through). As I mentioned in my previous post, I noted that we only see regular passenger trains operating on about 375 miles (600 km) out of the state's total 4,444 miles (7,152 km) of track.

Minnesota's rail system grew dramatically from zero miles of track in 1860 to nearly 9,300 miles (14,970 km) in 1920, when the system reached its peak size. Since then, nearly 5,000 miles have been abandoned. Norway's rail system is fairly small in comparison: At 2,540 miles (4,087 km), it represents just over half of the trackage than we lost over the last century. Despite that, they strongly outperform us when it comes to moving people around by rail.

Norwegian State Railways (NSB, for Norges Statsbaner) provides most intercity and commuter train service in Norway. In 2015, they carried 67.1 million passengers on trains within the country, plus another 5.3 million across the border on routes that connect to major cities in Sweden. Their in-country ridership is about 80 times the level we see here. NSB also turned a profit in the process.

NSB also operates a companion bus network, primarily under the Nettbuss name, which serves intercity and commuter passengers, though they also operate the local bus services in some cities. This bus system contributed another 75.3 million to the total number of passengers NSB carried in 2015.

Norway's rail network grew at a much more deliberate pace than the system in Minnesota, perhaps due to the country's challenging topography. Steep mountains force most population and infrastructure into the valleys between them and around the edges of lakes and fjords. However, Norwegians have become adept at using tunnels and bridges to make their own paths through the mountains and across large bodies of water. For instance, there are nearly 700 rail tunnels in the country, many of which are several miles long. Minnesota has very few rail tunnels, perhaps only a dozen, and they're mostly very short (the longest in the state are the Blue Line's tunnels at MSP airport, and that's outside of the scope of this article since that's an urban light rail line rather than an intercity service).

It took until 1909 for the line from Oslo to Bergen to be completely built, a major accomplishment for the country at the time. The pace of growth picked up after the country was invaded by Nazi Germany during World War II, as the new regime saw military advantage in having an expanded system and were willing to exploit the labor of prisoners of war to do it. The southern line to Kristiansand and Stavanger was completed in 1944, and the northern line from Trondheim toward Bodø was significantly expanded during the war. It finally reached that city in 1962 (passenger service included), a time where American railroads could hardly kill off their passenger and freight lines fast enough.

The country has continued to invest since then, including electrifying nearly 2/3rds of the rail network and adding new tunnels to straighten out and speed up older routes that used to skirt around major obstructions. You can see how old and new tunnels mix together on the Bergen Line for yourself, since the state TV broadcaster (NRK) created a "slow TV" recording of the entire 7-hour journey from Bergen to Oslo:

The train in that video operates as an express service near Bergen and Oslo, only stopping at major stations in those areas, but it makes many stops on the stretch between Myrdal and Hokksund. Despite that being a sparsely-populated region compared to the coasts with few larger towns, there are often significant numbers of passengers getting on and off at the stations. Some stretches of the Bergen Line have top speeds of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h), though most of it twists and turns enough that those speeds aren't regularly achieved.

The vast majority of Norway's rail system carries passenger traffic in addition to freight. Generally speaking, only short branch lines off of their mainline network (often just 10 to 20 miles in length) have been abandoned or converted to freight-only use, a stark contrast to what we see in the U.S. They also operate passenger trains more frequently. For instance, there are five round trips per day* on the 308-mile (496 km) route between Oslo and Bergen. A similar journey here might be between the Twin Cities and Green Bay (about 280 miles or 450 km).

*(Technically, only four trains go all the way to Bergen—one round-trip has its western endpoint in Voss, but there are 21 trains running from Voss to Bergen each weekday.)

There are seven round-trips on most days between Oslo and Stavanger (339 miles or 545 km), four round-trips between Oslo and Trondheim (340 miles or 548 km), and two round-trips between Trondheim and Bodø (453 miles or 729 km. A third daily train goes about 2/3rds of the way, to Mo i Rana).

In addition to those longer-distance services with their handful of daily trips, many of Norway's larger cities have shorter-distance local services running much more frequently. Oslo, which has a population of 658,000 and is in a metro area of 1.7 million people, has the biggest commuter rail network, but Bergen (pop. 250,000), Stavanger (211,000), Trondheim (175,000), Skien/Porsgrunn (92,000), and Bodø (40,000) all have more frequent local trains connecting them to towns along the lines that operate to/through them, sometimes up to distances of about 100 miles away.

That gives me a lot of optimism that there's unexploited potential in much of the rail system in Minnesota and other parts of the U.S. Of course, there are a lot of differences between our region and Norway which could throw a monkey wrench in the works. Cars are more expensive to buy and operate in Europe than they are here, and we have a much bigger network of freeways and other major highways than Norway does. But our region is pretty flat, meaning most ordinary rail lines are much straighter here than over there, and could sustain pretty high speeds if they were just rehabilitated and maintained to the right standard.

mn-combined-full-cities, by Michael Hicks, on Flickr
From my previous post, a map of a potential system for reconnecting cities of 5,000 people and up in Minnesota and neighboring states/provinces.

Could we ever get to the level of carrying 67 million passengers a year over the existing freight network here? It would be a big challenge, to be sure, but we can definitely create something better than what exists today. Nearly all of the cities in our state over 5,000 people (which account for 70% of the state's population) are on or near the freight network, and those same lines go through many smaller towns that could also be served. Even if we just set up a core system of rail routes and used buses for many of the connections to smaller towns, we'd probably be a lot better off than we are now.

We have a network already in place that's much more extensive than the Norwegian system. Many northern cities don't have train service, and some cities are on islands that are hard or impossible to reach with ground transportation. In fact, Norway has one of the biggest air travel markets in Europe relative to its population, since many people don't want to deal with the relatively slow, constantly curving routes of roadways and rail lines. People traveling by car also often need to use ferries to reach between islands and fjords, which further slows down journey times. Our flatter region isn't nearly as difficult to build through.

The world recently passed a milestone where carbon dioxide is now saturating the atmosphere at a level of 400 parts per million, and it's continuing to rise year over year, right along with global average temperature. To hold back that rise, we'll have to do everything we can to shift people to using less carbon-intensive modes of travel. Biking, walking, and urban transit are good for local journeys, but it's necessary to build up a good public transportation network for spanning the larger distances between cities too. We have an untapped resource sitting on the ground, and I hope we start using it to it's fullest potential.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A broader look at passenger rail opportunities in Minnesota

I've spent a lot of time on mapping projects over the past several years, focusing in particular on rail lines through Minnesota and nearby regions. Since the state and national rail networks peaked in the 1920s, and have been shrinking ever since, a lot of that mapping has been a bit depressing. There have been a number of times when I've gone into OpenStreetMap to mark once-busy line as as disused, abandoned, or completely obliterated with virtually no trace left behind.

The size of Minnesota's rail network has been roughly cut in half since since its 1920s apex, but there are still 4,444 route-miles of existing railroad in the state, according to MnDOT. That's almost five times the size of the Interstate highway network in Minnesota (916 miles) and a bit over a third the size of the total trunk highway system (11,814 miles including Interstates, U.S. highways, and state highways, though that's still a tiny fraction of the 143,000 total miles of roadway within the state).

mndot-freight-rail-poster-2015-january by Michael Hicks, on Flickr
MnDOT's freight rail map from January 2015. Active lines are in color or black, while abandoned corridors are shown in dashed gray lines.

However, even though Minnesota's 4,444-mile network reaches most of the places you've heard of and many of the ones you haven't, only about 375 miles (about 8%) of it is used for intercity passenger trains. Over 90% of the system is only used for freight traffic.

Here's a map I created to show what we have for existing conditions for passenger rail in Minnesota and nearby areas. This primarily shows Amtrak's Empire Builder, but Via Rail's Canadian is also shown passing through Manitoba and Ontario to the north. I mapped a green segment coming out of Minneapolis showing the Northstar Line, and I also included a line out of Duluth for the North Shore Scenic Railroad (You can't really go anywhere on that line, since they're just excursions out and back from the Duluth depot, but it's probably the most significant other rail segment in the region that regularly sees passengers travel over it).

mn-combined-existing-nocities by Michael Hicks, on Flickr

Here's the same map, but including markers for cities with populations of 5,000 or more (Stars denote capital cities, squares are used for the largest cities per state, and circles mark either the 10 largest cities per state/province, or cities over 75,000 when the state/province is large enough, such as with Thunder Bay in Ontario. Smaller places are noted with orange or yellow diamonds):

mn-combined-existing-cities by Michael Hicks on Flickr

The national Amtrak passenger rail system is an extremely skeletal network that sometimes has gaps of hundreds of miles between corridors, and most of the system only sees one train per day per direction.

We're relatively lucky that Amtrak even stops in the Twin Cities. To our south in Iowa, Amtrak misses the state's capital and largest city, Des Moines, by about 50 miles. The most-populated place in Iowa directly served by Amtrak is Burlington, the state's 19th-largest city. (Iowa's 7th-largest city, Council Bluffs, gets an honorable mention since it is a suburb of Omaha, Nebraska, where Amtrak does have a station.) To our west, Amtrak doesn't even bother serving South Dakota, even though the Sioux Falls region has a population of about 250,000 and Rapid City, near the Black Hills, has a metro population of 144,000.

Even though Amtrak only has six stops in Minnesota (Detroit Lakes, Staples, St. Cloud, Saint Paul, Red Wing, and Winona) and three others just across the border (Grand Forks and Fargo in North Dakota and La Crosse in Wisconsin), they can easily claim to serve more than half the state's population, simply because the 3.1 million out of the state's total 5.5 million population is concentrated in the Twin Cities region. I think we deserve a lot better than that, though.

Places like Rochester (3rd largest city in the state after Minneapolis and St. Paul) and Duluth (5th place, barely behind Bloomington) have no service, not to mention numerous other smaller towns.

One of my observations during my years mapping is that most places with populations of 5,000 and up still have freight rail service. This isn't always true, but the rule holds pretty well for outstate Minnesota. From what I can tell, the only towns of that size outside of the Twin Cities lacking freight rail are Hutchinson (pop. 14,000, about 60 miles west of Minneapolis), and Stewartville (pop. 6,000, about 13 miles south of Rochester).

There are more examples within the Twin Cities, particularly postwar suburbs, but even most of them are still within a few miles of railroad lines due to the denser network of tracks in the metro area. Woodbury, the state's 9th largest state (pop. 68,000), is the biggest to not have direct rail service, but its neighboring cities of Oakdale and Lake Elmo do have tracks running through them.

I decided to try making a map to show how much of the state and surrounding area could be linked using existing track, and how much might need to be rebuilt or constructed on new alignments in order to make a suitable network. You might call this a "fantasy map", but I prefer to think of it as a "mapping experiment", since it's mostly based around infrastructure that already exists.

Here's what I came up with (still somewhat of a work in progress). Existing freight lines are marked in blue, while purple is used for routes that would need to be built new or reconstructed:

mn-combined-full-nocities by Michael Hicks, on Flickr

Here's the same map again, but with cities included:

mn-combined-full-cities, by Michael Hicks, on Flickr

The system that emerged in my map adds up to about 4,275 miles within Minnesota's borders, including 3,475 miles of existing railroad (78% of the state's freight system) and adding or restoring about 805 miles of other corridors to create a tighter mesh. If all of that was built for passenger service and other existing freight lines were retained, this would re-grow Minnesota's overall rail network by about 18% to 5,250 route-miles.

Most of the purple routes follow abandoned rail lines, but a few, including connections for the off-network towns of Hutchinson and Stewartville, plus segments of the line to Thunder Bay, Ontario, use alignments that I invented.

My population threshold of 5,000 was fairly arbitrary—it's probably a lower population than most transportation planners would think of connecting by rail, but cities of that size can still generate quite a bit of traffic.

My hometown of Byron is currently estimated to have a population of about 5,300 people, and according to the Census's OnTheMap tool, 1,785 people who live in Byron are employed in nearby Rochester. If each one of those people decided to drive to work at exactly the same time, the line of cars would be nearly 7 miles long standing still and would stretch to 100 miles if they were moving at 65 mph with a 3-second trailing distance—not so good considering that Byron and Rochester are only 10 miles apart. Plus, that's purely a measure of commuter traffic—there are always additional trips for dining, shopping, and other activities to consider too.

I wish there was more transportation thinking happening on this scale, since I think it would massively improve our chances of meeting climate change goals in the transportation sector. If this network existed, it would be much easier to have a car-free or car-lite life, even in a rural small town. Cities of 5,000 and up account for 70% of the state's population, and an extensive network like this would also dramatically improve public transportation access for the remaining 30%.

MnDOT has a passenger rail plan with some of these routes included in it (the image below is from the 2010 version of the plan), but their system always struck me as a bit flawed since it was entirely centered on the Twin Cities and it didn't give much priority to the lines to Sioux Falls or straight south to Albert Lea (toward Des Moines). The latter line has since been upgraded to a higher priority, but that's not saying much considering the slow pace of planning for these routes.

In my opinion, MnDOT's passenger rail plan is the minimum we should be aiming for, but they've had insufficient financial and personnel resources to even execute that vision. Their plan would reach most cities over 20,000 in population (at least outside of the metro area), but for now it remains little more than an idea.

Planning for the Northern Lights Express service to Duluth continues to trundle along, though the planned speed and frequency of service has been cut back. Formerly fast-moving plans for high-speed service to Rochester have been shelved due to lack of funds and the emergence of a private company that claims they'll build the line instead, but it's not clear whether that organization will move forward either.

It's been like pulling teeth to get any movement on a mere second daily train between the Twin Cities and Chicago, and plans for faster and more frequent trains on that line have been held up because of an obstinate government in Wisconsin.

Something significant has to be done to shake us out of the rut of car-dependent transportation planning across the state. In a previous post, I suggested implementing a statewide 1% sales tax that could be applied to both urban transit and intercity projects like this, estimating that it could generate about $740 million per year, enough to fully fund the equivalent of at least one 150-mile Northern Lights Express project annually.

It would take a few decades to build out a system as big as what I've suggested, and such a scale might not be fully attainable given future lifecycle costs, but some back-of-the-envelope calculating suggests revenue from a 1% sales tax (assuming about half of that went to urban transit and the other half was for intercity links) would make it possible to build out and sustain a system of at least 2,000, putting it somewhere in between MnDOT's suggested system and my concept.

What do you think? Where would you draw the line for intercity service?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Taking the "transit" sales tax statewide

As I write this, the 2016 Minnesota legislative session is coming to a close, and last-minute discussions are taking place to try and sort out transportation funding. One of the major options is the possibility of a 0.5% metro-area sales tax for transit, an increase from the 0.25% currently collected for the Counties Transit Improvement Board. This is partly to finance the Southwest LRT project, which is currently facing a $135 million funding gap. CTIB currently collects $110 million per year, and the increase would bring the funding level to $280 million annually (if it included all 7 counties rather than the 5 that are currently members).

That's a significant improvement, but still pales in comparison to the annual amount of money put into roadways. In 2015, MnDOT funneled $3.28 billion in funds. That included about $1.3 billion on construction for roads and bridges on the state trunk highway system, plus another $1 billion handed over to counties and cities for the County State-Aid Highway (CSAH) and Municipal State-Aid Street (MSAS) programs.

When discussing transit funding, it's common to get bogged down talking about operational costs, even though that is measuring something completely different than the capital spending that dominates the cost of roadways. MnDOT doesn't actually move anyone—they just provide the infrastructure that allows people to move themselves, mostly in cars that are privately owned. Capital spending by transit agencies tends to be fairly low, and it's often dominated by the cost of vehicles and maintenance facilities, with little left over for any actual infrastructure in the ground. New rail projects have all-inclusive budgets that seem high because they count guideways, vehicles, stations, maintenance facilities (which double as parking for transit vehicles), power supplies, and miscellaneous other items.

Given all of that, it's really unsurprising that the mode share for public transportation is very low across the country, and only modestly better in most larger metro areas. But wow, wouldn't that be different if we balanced the amount of spending between different modes? What if we had the money to fund the tunneled and/or elevated lines that would allow denser parts of the Twin Cities to have good transit service? What if we built on the concept of the metro-area sales tax and took that statewide?

This topic has come up over on the forum, with a few different ideas tossed around, and some more thoughts have bubbled up as we now watch Denver open several new lines this year, starting with the new A Line commuter service to their airport.

The Twin Cities region has long struggled to fund desirable projects, and it has been especially difficult to get lines with good routings to serve the densest and most populous parts of our region. Minneapolis, which generates the largest number of transit trips of any city in the metro area, is only expected to be served by a limited number of new light-rail stations on the Blue and Green Line extensions.

Of course, if we had a steady stream of $1 billion per year like the trunk highway system does, what has been impossible in the past due to complex federal funding rules would now be far, far more practical. It would be easier to do the logical thing and upgrade Metro Transit's busiest routes.

If we took the funding stream statewide, it would also help transit service in smaller cities, and could fund the restoration of passenger service on current and former freight rail corridors across the state, not to mention a conversion from diesel power to quieter, cleaner, and more efficient electric power. This would make it so "transit" isn't just something for large cities, but also a system for connecting all corners of the state. Most towns in Minnesota were built up along rail corridors, so it would make sense to link them together again. MnDOT has struggled to make progress on the estimated $95 million second daily train to Chicago, a project that should have been implemented years ago. That project and MnDOT's state rail plan are things that could be built up in no time if we treated public transportation the same way we treat highways.

Denver's metro-area transit system is funded with a 1% sales tax, double what is currently being discussed by legislators. Minnesota has a pretty large economy, with a gross domestic product of $317 billion in 2014. Each percent of sales tax from that year brought in about $740 million in revenue. Surprisingly, my hypothetical target of $1 billion isn't that far off. If we wanted to do this, we could.

Are either of those figures the right amount to spend on public transportation in our state? For our present situation, where highway funding has been leagues ahead of what we've gotten for transit decade after decade, it basically seems too low. We can't flip the switch tonight and have a fully built-out statewide system tomorrow, but with issues like climate change lurking, and a possible flip from growth in the sprawling suburbs back into the city grid, I feel like we need all the investment we can get.