Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Powder River Basin

The Powder River Basin, primarily in northeast Wyoming but also extending into southeast Montana, is the largest single source of freight rail tonnage in the United States. The region's low-sulfur coal has grown very popular as electric utilities try to clean up the exhaust from their power plants. The fuel gets shipped all across the country, though it appears to be most heavily used in the Midwest.

While I'm often amazed by the level of freight rail traffic that goes past my apartment every day, this makes me wonder how many trains must be running those rails out west at the same time. However, while the thickness of lines on the map above make it look like there must be ten times as many trains there compared to what goes through my neighborhood, the reality is that the line only carries about 3x as many trains. Still, BNSF and Union Pacific have put together their impressive Joint Line with four main tracks (plus sidings!) through the heart of cowboy country to haul a lot of long and heavy trains:

BNSF 9884 Converse Jct BNSF 6336 Powder River
Photos copyright Shawn Christie.

The tonnage that goes through my neighborhood is about the same as the northernmost line on the map, the old Great Northern mainline from the Twin Cities to the Pacific Northwest. That works out to 50–60 trains per day, often composed of well cars with double-stack containers, although there are still many regular mixed freight trains on the line too.

In the Powder River Basin, BNSF claims slightly more than 50 loadings per day, while Union Pacific claims more than 30. This presumably adds up to 160 trains per day if a "loading" means an inbound empty train plus a full outbound one. The trains are averaging a length of 132 cars, which each carry more than 100 tons of coal. If this amount of coal had to be moved by truck instead of by rail, it'd amount to between 81,000 and 86,000 semi truck loads per day (imagine the parkway portion of Interstate 35E southwest of downtown Saint Paul, but with every vehicle a truck).

Of course, even with that many trains, the four-track mainline probably wouldn't need to be as wide if the trains could run at regular speeds—BNSF's double-tracked Southern Transcon sees about 100 trains per day and supposedly has capacity for 150 (though I think there are still a few choke points which prevent that from happening). In the PRB, however, trains are often forced to crawl their way out of the basin at low speed, necessitating the extra rails.

Incidentally, while it is heavy, Powder River coal is known for blowing away as it gets transported. BNSF itself has said that between 500 and 2000 pounds of coal dust can disappear from each rail car in transit from the mine to the ultimate destination. Some other studies have even said the loss can amount to 3% (>6000 lbs.) per car! The railroad itself doesn't like the coal dust, since it can foul the trackbed and cause it to shift, so there have been some attempts to get shippers to cover the loads with tarps or sealants. They don't entirely fix the problem, but do reduce it significantly.

Friday, August 26, 2011

August 26, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:
  • Not quite in the rail vein, but MPR's Midday program with author/historian Larry Millet (he of Lost Twin Cities fame) from last Friday was pretty interesting. Some railroad-related bits included brief discussions of James J. Hill's other houses, and the mention that some mansions in the Lowertown neighborhood of Saint Paul were destroyed to make way for railroad expansion in that area of the city. His upcoming book is Once There Were Castles, which talks about many of the old Twin Cities mansions from the 19th and early 20th centuries that have now disappeared.

Construction, planning, and funding news:
  • Repairs have begun on the train station in Minot, North Dakota which was inundated during the Souris River earlier this year.

  • The Stillwater-area rail line most recently used by the Minnesota Zephyr dinner train will become the Brown's Creek Trail. It will allow cyclists and other users of the Gateway Trail—which currently ends in the middle of nowhere—to get all the way into downtown Stillwater without using roads or highways.

  • Saint Paul Union Depot:

    • Mortenson, the design-build contractor for the Saint Paul Union Depot rehabilitation and restoration, has set up two webcams on either side of the concourse to allow people to watch the activity. Here are links for the east and west sides.

    • The Union Depot's Facebook page got some images of the planned train deck layout.

    • A new SPUD mailing list was set up this past week through Yahoo Groups.

  • Three contractors who built the Hiawatha Line are paying the federal government $4.6 million over false claims that they subcontracted to disadvantaged business enterprises.

  • I took some pictures of Central Corridor construction last weekend, adding to my collection. One of the major developments was the appearance of bridge members for the crossing of Interstate 35W (the existing Hiawatha Line bridge is on the left):


  • Update (8/27): Three more things:

Incidents (Amtrak nationally, Upper Midwest for freights):
  • Hussein Abdi Hassan of Minneapolis has been sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined more than $310,000 following a bomb threat he made near Great Falls, Montana last winter. He made the false threat after being thrown off the the train for drunk and disorderly conduct.

  • David Voeltz of the MNRailGroup mailing list reported a few incidents. On or before August 21st, there were apparently derailments in South Dakota near Wendt (unknown railroad), and Blunt (Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern). There had also been a BNSF derailment—ironically of a wrecker crane—near Bath. That one had been reported in the Aberdeen American News, though I haven't found a story online.

  • On August 23rd, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake centered at Mineral, Virginia shook much of the East Coast. Some minor damage occurred in the Washington, D.C. area, where Amtrak and commuter trains were slowed as a precaution.

  • The California Zephyr derailed after striking a crane boom west of Benkelman in southwest Nebraska at about 8 AM today (August 26th). The locomotive was completely toppled on its side, though most of the passenger cars remained upright. Only nine people with minor injuries were reported.

  • Hurricane Irene has caused Amtrak to cancel service along the coast, and is causing further trouble as the storm moves northward. The New York City Subway is going to be shut down at noon on Saturday the 27th for the first (planned) time ever, partly because their trains don't operate reliably with sustained high winds. Several bridges may also close due to wind, and the potential storm surge is a concern because it could inundate some subway tunnels. The surge has prompted evacuations in vulnerable areas of the city. The upside for evacuees is that fares will be waived between 8 PM Friday and the shutdown time on Saturday.

  • Amtrak is continuing to move toward proper e-ticketing and has begun testing new portable ticket scanners aboard the Downeaster which runs from Boston to Portland, Maine.

  • The Association of American Railroads is suing the federal government over Amtrak on-time performance rules that were implemented a few years ago under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA). They claim that current practices essentially make Amtrak a "lawmaking and rulemaking authority", even though it is technically a private company.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Website for The Interchange

Despite my searching over the past year or so, I've never come across until just now. The Interchange is Minneapolis's planned expansion of the light rail and heavy rail train station(s) at Target Field, intended to be that city's counterpart to the Saint Paul Union Depot.

I did hear about one open house meeting on the project through the normal news media several months ago, but their website implies to me that there have been multiple meetings in the past. Nonetheless, there will be two more meetings this year related to the site's Environmental Assessment, on November 1st and December 1st. No details on time or location as of yet.

The Internet Archive hasn't crawled yet, at least not in its current incarnation.

I'd like to see some level of website consolidation for all of the different infrastructure projects out there. A wiki-esque framework that gets information out to the public with a minimal amount of effort on the part of planners, designers, and other associated groups. I tend to find things on Mn/DOT's website easily enough, but I guess I get a little stymied when I need to worry about entities at the city, county, state, and federal level, plus regional rail authorities, the Metropolitan Council, and probably several other things I'm missing.

I could imagine having a site with a zoomable map on the front page that would let me find projects going on in my neighborhood, without having to figure out which level of government is responsible. I figure a good system would also help the different levels of government themselves to understand the context of their own projects in a better way.

Some thoughts on high-speed rail routing

View European high-speed lines in a larger map

Several months ago, I spent some time trying to map high-speed rail lines in Europe, and was struck by how they were laid out.

The French LGV network, which carries TGVs and other trains, hardly ever goes through cities or towns. The lines usually thread the needle between communities, and rely on connecting lines in order to get trains on and off the faster network. Some high-speed lines aren't like that, though—the ICE network in Germany relies much more heavily on upgrades to existing rail corridors which did slice through towns. That sort of design also seems to be more common on newer parts of the LGV network in France. (Perhaps due to cost pressures?)

There are very few intermediate stations along the LGV network itself. Far from being "transit oriented", the few stations that exist are frequently on the edges of cities or out in the middle of nowhere, miles away from anything (much like airports). There are a few places where that isn't the case, but usually only in fairly large communities.

In many ways, this strikes me as similar to how the Interstate Highway System is built in much of the U.S. It also tells me that truly great high-speed rail can't exist all by itself—a supplementary network of slower, more local service is needed as well. This also says to me that the idea of a "sealed corridor" is not quite going to work. While trains that exclusively run on high-speed routes may be able to be designed differently than others that need to mix with freights and go over grade crossings, their more heavily-built counterparts will still have to use high-speed lines in at least some cases. With current FRA regulations, they'll probably cause extra damage to occur to the rails, and will certainly cause a lot of operational headaches.

Another thing that I found interesting about the LGV network in particular was that the lines were almost never "straight". They had a very wide radius of curvature, but there's almost always a slight bend to the left or right. That contrasts with much of the (fairly flat) Midwest, where rails have historically been built in straight lines whenever possible, and then start curving when obstacles are encountered. I'm a bit curious why they decided to build that way—one guess is that it's to help keep train operators awake by always presenting a changing landscape.

European high-speed lines also get built next to highways fairly often, making use of leftover or relatively low-value land. This would seem to be a good idea in the U.S. as well, but American highways seem to be built with sharper curves most of the time. Certainly many curves could be rebuilt, but sprawling development often consumes land immediately adjacent to highways in this country and would make that a bit harder to accomplish.

(The map above is zoomed in to show a bit of "threading the needle" in France. You might find it interesting to zoom out and explore other parts of the European HSR network that I was able to map. A few segments aren't quite "true HSR", though, with speeds only up to about 100 mph in some spots.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

August 19, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:
  • The Minnesota State Fair will begin August 25th and run through September 5th, bringing with it a number of traditional transit changes. Some park-and-ride facilities have free rides, while more distant locations have per-person round-trip costs of $5 (though it's possible to pre-order family passes for $15 before the fair opens). The regular routes 3 and 84 go past the fairgrounds, of course, and express route 960 runs from downtown Minneapolis to the fair via I-94, MN-280, Energy Park Drive, and the UMN transitway.

    Construction along the west end of the transitway is also expected to be wrapping up in time for the fair traffic to begin. The bike/ped path adjacent to the transitway will remain closed through 2012, however (though I tend to bike on the roadway anyway).

  • The Minnesota Historical Society put together a video describing some of the railroading items in their collection:

  • Alon Levy says, Every Time You Justify Infrastructure on Competitiveness Grounds, A Kitten Dies (indeed!)

Construction, planning, and funding news:
  • A Northstar Line station for Ramsey is almost fully funded. The Anoka County Regional Rail Authority has submitted a request to CTIB for the last $2 million. More details in yesterday's post. Meanwhile, KSTP put up their own report on the associated parking ramp for the station where they counted 104 vehicles at midday yesterday.

  • The headhouse of the Saint Paul Union Depot will have a completely different look on the inside when it reopens later this year. Workers are applying a much brighter paint scheme, which represents the time when the building opened. While it may look like they are covering up stone, it turns out that much of it is fake—it's really just plaster.

  • The city of Saint Paul put together a video showing construction progress along the Central Corridor. Some details that jumped out at me were discussions of pervious pavement used in the sidewalk along University Avenue (I'd wondered why they used brick there) and the plantings that will be put in place along much of the route:

  • Union Pacific is spending $7 million to refresh 24 miles of track from St. Paul to Hudson, replacing old jointed rail segments with continuous-welded rail, and rebuilding 26 grade crossings. The upgrades will also benefit Minnesota Commercial Railway, which uses the route to reach customers in Bayport.

Looks like I'll have to start reading some meeting minutes... Here's some info from the August 8th meeting of the Metropolitan Council's Transportation Committee.
  • The Hiawatha Line's outage on August 5th due to a snapped power cable on the MN-62 flyover was a bit more significant than what we'd heard in initial reports. A power surge occurred when a train hit the break, and it jumped past protective insulation all the way up to Target Field which caused some communications equipment to be damaged. While trains resumed operating later in the day, it took 2½ days for all of the supporting equipment to be repaired.

  • Some traffic signaling improvements are apparently coming along the Hiawatha Avenue corridor in Minneapolis. $1.1 million is planned to be spent on altering stop light phasing, improving detection loops, and other fixes to improve traffic flow. The changes won't affect the priority of the Hiawatha Line itself, however. (I wonder if they remembered pedestrians with this—the delay for a "walk" signal across Hiawatha Ave is often unacceptable and people tend to cross during gaps in traffic.)

  • A proposal to use $20 million in G.O. bonds for several bus and rail stations and planning processes was working its way through during the meeting. Headline items include $11 million for the Interchange station project in Minneapolis and $4 million for the aforementioned Northstar station in Ramsey. $2 million will go to park-and-ride expansion at Maplewood Mall (called part of the "Rush Line" corridor, although the route 285 bus runs farther west). $500,000 will go to a park-and-ride expansion in Newport along the Red Rock Corridor, though that could increase to $1.75 million if CTIB backfills $1.25 million that the proposal would otherwise send to the Gateway Corridor folks along I-94. There was also $1 million set aside for I-35W BRT and $250,000 for the Robert Street Corridor.

  • CTIB grant requests were also being planned for capital funding to plan and engineer the Southwest LRT line, and to continue construction and property acquisition for the Central Corridor. Grants for 2012 operational funding for the Hiawatha Line ($12.5 million), Northstar Line ($8.8 million), and I-35W/Cedar Ave BRT routes (totaling $910,000) were also discussed.

Collisions and incidents (Amtrak nationally, freights in the upper Midwest):
  • August 13: A 50-year-old male pedestrian was killed when struck by an Amtrak train in Alton, Illinois.
  • August 14: A woman in her 30s was struck and killed by an Amtrak train while walking on the tracks at the Bridesburg SEPTA station in Philadelphia.
  • Alex of Getting Around Minneapolis delved into the topic of bus stop spacing in St. Louis versus the Twin Cities. He discovered that the Citizens' League had talked to executives at the old (post-streetcar) Twin City Rapid Transit Company about the issue back in 1956! (and they also had some other useful suggestions that transit advocates pine for these days.)

  • Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa has declined to renew the state's membership in the Midwest Intercity Passenger Rail Commission (unfortunately, an organization I've never heard of until now).

  • Out in California, Amtrak is losing its contract to operate service for Caltrain. TransitAmerica has been chosen as the new operator.

  • Amtrak's second daily Cascades train to Vancouver, British Columbia—initiated in the run-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics—will continue indefinitely. Canadian customs officials had previously threatened to stop staffing their station in October.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Northstar station for Ramsey should be open by late next year

Two articles from ABC Newspapers in the last week have mentioned that city and county funding is ready for the proposed infill station along the Northstar Line in Ramsey, Minnesota, and that a grant request has been made to CTIB, the Counties Transit Improvement Board.  Construction may begin this winter or spring, but the station should be open by autumn 2012 regardless.  The station will be located at "The COR", a development formerly known as Ramsey Town Center which is theoretically being built under transit-oriented, new-urbanish guidelines.

The whole station project will apparently run $13.2 million, which seems to include $2.7 million to add 200 parking spaces to an existing ramp with 590 stalls (bringing the number of transit-dedicated spaces to 350). The ramp expansion was originally projected to cost $4.1 million, so there's some optimism that low bids will also be put in for much of the rest of the project.

Other non-station station costs include an overpass at Armstrong Boulevard and railroad easement rights. The total cost of the overpass is unclear, although Anoka County Regional Rail Authority is contributing $1.7 million to that project. BNSF Railway has indicated they want $5 million to allow the station on their property, though it may be possible to negotiate that down to $4.1 million.

The city currently has commuter buses that run to Minneapolis as route 856, the "Ramsey Star Express", which carries around 230 trips per day (or roughly 115 individuals making round trips). I'd certainly be skeptical of the need for 200 more spaces at a ramp that is currently under-utilized with only around 100 spaces currently being used for transit. I also have to scratch my head because the parking expansion is getting funding from a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant.

However, I'll mention that the Northstar commuter rail service carries more than 4 times the number of riders than the express bus service it replaced. 2008 statistics put Northstar Commuter Coach ridership at 169,000, while last year's rail numbers hit 715,000. The Ramsey Star buses clocked in 56,000 rides in '08, so if the newspaper is correct about current ridership being 230 daily, then it has stayed fairly constant or risen slightly since the introduction of Northstar rail service.

If Ramsey can get ridership to jump that much, then the extra parking is more justifiable—I think it's fair to say that parking demand will at least double. If it goes up as much as Northstar ridership did, then they'll easily fill the 350 dedicated spaces. I wouldn't advocate any more expansion of the parking structure, though—especially since I doubt the other 440 spaces are being fully utilized.

If things go well, Northstar could just barely hit one million rides in 2013. I'm not sure if I'm quite that optimistic, but it'd be nice to see.

Friday, August 12, 2011

August 12, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:
  • The Minnesota Streetcar Museum is celebrating their 40th anniversary and they're teaming with a model train manufacturer to get HO-scale PCC streetcars released in a Twin City Rapid Transit paint scheme. Ordering by August 15th will allow for free shipping, although the pieces aren't expected to start arriving until December.

  • Along similar lines, a guy who apparently worked on designing the Hiawatha light-rail vehicles for Bombardier has been working on making his own HO-scale version of them. Here's one of his more recent videos:

  • The (group formerly known as?) "Friends of the 261" is planning its annual autumn excursions from Minneapolis up toward (but not quite to) Duluth and south toward Winona and La Crescent. October 8th and 9th. The Milwaukee Road 261 is still in the shop being overhauled, but it is expected to be operating again next year.

  • Streetfilms, who recently did a video on the expansion of Nice Ride into Saint Paul, also made a film about the Martin Olav Sabo bridge:
    Martin Olav Sabo Bridge (Minneapolis) from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Planning/construction news:
  • "The Interchange", an expansion of the light- and heavy-rail stations at Target Field in Minneapolis, got some news this week. It's now expected to cost less than $70 million to build (down from earlier projections), and should be operating by 2014, around the time that the Central Corridor is complete. The project will include an expanded pedestrian plaza in the currently cramped light rail station area plus a parking structure with 550 stalls (on top of how many thousand in a 2-block radius already?).

Collisions and other incidents (Amtrak nationally, Upper Midwest for freights):
  • A Canadian Pacific train derailed on their mainline northwest of Kensal, North Dakota on Saturday, August 6th due to a washout.

  • A female pedestrian walking along tracks in Simi Valley, California was struck and killed by an Amtrak train on August 10th. She apparently saw the train and made no effort to get out of the way.

  • No injuries were reported after a Union Pacific train sliced through a semi truck trailer hauling corn near Heron Lake in southwestern Minnesota today. The crossing is not signalized. It was apparently the second truck-train collision along the UP's line in the past week—Another one recently occurred in St. James, Minnesota.

  • 700 workers at Bombardier's facility in Thunder Bay, Ontario went on strike for two days this past week, although an agreement was reached on Friday. The plant makes bilevel passenger cars, streetcars, and subway cars, and has an order backlog totaling $34 billion.

  • Amtrak has released an iPhone app, which allows users to purchase and upgrade tickets from their mobile devices.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Not big

A tidbit jumped out at me toward the bottom of the Star Tribune article about this morning's crash that temporarily closed down Interstate 94 through the Lowry Hill Tunnel:
Disruption to Metro Transit bus service has been minimal so far, spokesman John Siqveland said. One express route, No. 652 running between Minnetonka and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, is being diverted from its usual path through the tunnel and onto downtown surface streets, Siqveland said.
Okay, route 652—and? Well, looking at Metro Transit's interactive map, it turns out that 652 is the only bus route that goes through the tunnel—and it only has two inbound runs in the morning and two outbounds in the evening.

Admittedly the route is an express to the University of Minnesota, so it's running at reduced frequency during the summer, but it's galling to think that so little effort has been expended to balance mode share through the most significant freeway bottleneck in the Twin Cities.

There were 164,000 vehicles using the tunnel each day in 2007, so even if the buses were pretty full, four per day probably only represents a total mode share of 0.05%. I hope things are a bit better during the regular UMN school season, but clearly the share of transit users would still be tiny: It'd take 15–20 times as many buses to reach just 1%.

Friday, August 5, 2011

August 5, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:
  • The new Fountains of Wayne album includes a track named "Acela".
Funding, planning, and construction news:
  • KMSP had a fairly good segment on the Saint Paul Union Depot renovation which includes comments from John Diers, co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley who is now working on a book about the depot.

    There was also news recently that the Sibley Street closure near the depot has been extended until September 1st because flooding along the Mississippi this spring delayed work.

  • California, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri will together receive $362.8 million in ARRA funding for new Amtrak locomotives and bilevel cars capable of more than 110 mph. (Amtrak's current fleet of P40/P42 locomotives are capable of 110, though they are aging and becoming unreliable. Standard Superliner bilevel cars are only rated for 90 or 100 mph. Faster trains in the U.S. generally use single-level equipment.) The Midwestern states will get 7 locomotives and 48 cars as part of the order, though Illinois had already received funding for another 12 locomotives and 30 cars in December of last year, so the total for the Midwest is 19 locos and 78 cars. Adding everything up from that press release, it looks like Amtrak and states around the country have put together $1.3 billion for 103 locos and 120 passenger cars in the last 12 months (which can also be added to the 130 single-level cars ordered last year for $298 million).

  • In order to allow construction of the junction to the Central Corridor, the Hiawatha LRT Trail (the bike/ped path next to the light rail line) will be detoured starting August 8th, and will remain so until the end of 2012.

  • The Southwest Corridor from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie may soon get the green light to go ahead with preliminary engineering, although the FTA has expressed concerns about the funding situation in Minnesota going forward. (I'm surprised that it's now expected to cost $1.25 billion in 2015 dollars—it has previously been quoted as $865 million to $1.4 billion, though I thought the high side was only going to be reached if the route went through Uptown. I know the route is a few miles longer than others built recently, but the Southwest line will mostly be built along an old freight rail corridor where there really isn't much stuff in the way, so it should be much cheaper. Grumble grumble.)

Amtrak collisions and incidents:
  • John Davis Trucking Company, owner of the truck that crashed into the California Zephyr on June 24th (killing the truck driver and five aboard the train) is suing Amtrak and Union Pacific, claiming they failed to maintain a safe crossing at the crash site and did not provide sufficient warning of the oncoming train. The NTSB has also released a preliminary report on the crash, which mentions that the lead locomotive had an external camera and microphone which showed the gate arms were down by the time the train reached the crossing. There wasn't much else mentioned in the preliminary report, however.

  • An eastbound California Zephyr struck a center pivot irrigation system at about 6 AM on August 1st about a mile west of Exeter, Nebraska. The irrigator had some sort of failure that caused it to wander onto the tracks. The lead locomotive was damaged enough that it couldn't continue the trip (damage included a broken windshield), so a BNSF locomotive was eventually substituted. One article reports that two engineers were treated and released by a local hospital, but no other injuries were reported. The incident added about 6½ hours of delay in reaching the next stop in Lincoln, and the lower top speed of the freight locomotive likely contributed to additional delays as the train continued to Chicago.

    View Larger Map

  • Also on Monday the 1st, A southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight train hit a tractor-trailer truck which stopped on the tracks outside Vacaville, California. Only slight injuries to the engineer were reported, and the train departed three hours after the incident, after the damaged lead locomotive was taken off. Some Amtrak California Capitol Corridor passengers had to be bused past the incident site while the crash was being investigated and cleaned up.

    View Larger Map

  • A man was struck and killed by an Acela Express train near Hyde Park station in Boston the night of August 4th.

Other collisions and incidents:
  • The aftermath of last month's collision near Wenzhou, China continues to unfold. The Communist Party sent out edicts that journalists should stop reporting on the story. My interest is fading because we'll probably never know quite what happened, but the politics of it are intriguing.

  • BNSF's Northern Transcon apparently reopened on August 1st after more than 4 days of repairs following last week's washout that occurred last week near Blanding, Illinois.

  • Flickr photographer Dave Glad caught the aftermath of a collision between a Hiawatha light rail vehicle and a Ford E-series van making an illegal u-turn down by I-494 in Bloomington, apparently on Monday, August 1st. I haven't been able to find any news reports for the incident.

  • 300 people were evacuated on Wednesday, August 3rd and remained so as of Thursday, following a Canadian Pacific train derailment along the former Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad's Tracy Subdivision near Eagle Lake, Minnesota, which is a few miles east of Mankato. Four tank cars derailed at 4:45 PM. None have leaked so far. The line is expected to be reopened late Friday or early Saturday.

  • Hiawatha light rail service between MSP airport and the Franklin Avenue station was interrupted when a power line snapped just before 8 AM today (Friday the 5th). The line went down on the bridge across MN-62 just north of the Fort Snelling station. Repairs are expected to be complete by the evening rush hour.

Metro Transit changing to colors for LRT and BRT routes

The Hiawatha Line will soon be no more, to be replaced with the Blue Line. Well, that might be overstating it a bit, since I don't have many details. All I know comes from some chatter on Twitter yesterday which led me to a Metropolitan Council newsletter article from last month which laid out some of the new names.

The Central Corridor will become the eastern half of the Green Line, while the Southwest Corridor will eventually become the western half. Buses that run on I-35W to BRT stations like the one at 46th Street station will go under the Orange Line moniker, while MN-77/Cedar Avenue BRT will be known as the Red Line. The Northstar Line is not getting a color—appropriate since it doesn't have sufficient service frequency (though apparently that won't prevent them from including it on their maps anyway).

The council is also looking to create a brand name for the entire BRT/LRT system. They got set up to receive suggestions starting back in December last year, though the suggestion period ended on March 18th. (I'm sure many people suggested "Twin City Rapid Transit", just like I did.)

I'm not a big fan of colors for route names, but I suppose I'll adjust. Mostly I just like the "Hiawatha" name. However, I suppose colors would be an improvement over the names "Central"/"University" and "Southwest", which would probably get used if colors didn't exist (although I have a bit of a soft spot for calling the Central Corridor the "Interurban", a common name used for the old TCRT "St. Paul–Minneapolis" line). Either way, they'll be annoying to disambiguate on Wikipedia and harder to set up Google News alerts for...