Railway To Financial Hell

The latest numbers – from the Met Council website – show that the Northstar Line is an even bigger cash suck than we’d predicted it’d be.

Click to see chart at a readable size.

Ridership is off sharply.  Operating subsidies are up; each ride on the Northstar line costs the taxpayer over $20.  That’s per ticket.

A source at the Capitol who’s been working the numbers on Northstar writes:

“One more point. The NorthStar lovers like to point out that one of the reasons that the numbers are down is because the Twins have sucked the last two years. Well, there does seem to be some truth (taken with a two-ton tablet of salt) to that…the numbers from April to October do give you the sense that the Twins could have an impact.

The source anticipates some of the counterarguments:

Of course, this ignores the fact that we, here in Frostbite Falls, tend to be rather sedentary during the colder months. Heck, just look at freeway traffic in the summer months, which is always higher than winter months.

But look at the numbers: Even if you give them ALL the increase in riders for Twins games, the differential averages to 1,026 per game. That’s down from 1,340 per game in 2011. If you’re gonna bank your success on Twins game riders…good luck with THAT.

The fact is, the Twins could win back to back World Series and the Northstar Line would still be hemorrhaging money.

12 thoughts on “Railway To Financial Hell

  1. Funny – the projected income from pulltabs that’s supposed to pay for the Vikings stadium is also wee-below expectations. What an incredible string of bad luck we’re experiencing.

  2. This is cutting edge technology, but from the 19th century. I realize the goal of DFLers is to waste as much money as humanly possible, but does it always have to be on stuff that is absolute crap? Trains, stadiums, and thousands of other “good intention” programs on which they never intend on validating results.

    Sure, it’s not just a DFL problem. However, they are the standard bearers for “wasted money”.

  3. This never ending fetish Lefty has for trains.
    As it happens, the Northstar line has a station (the end of the line – for now) not far (10 mins) from our home. Barring the Messinger Jugend effecting forced ridership, I’m not certain how they get enough riders to make this thing profitable when no one in my neighborhood (a little Penigma/Pauline Kael reference) works near the other end of the line.
    Have these people looked at population density? Have they ever surveyed the populace to determine where/when they need to go downtown? Right before the Ramsey station opened I was at a neighborhood gathering and asked if anyone rode the train. The only people who said they use the train were the people who use it for Twins games. These are people (a dozen or so) that maybe go to 5 games per season (in a good year). I have never driven by the surface lot at our station where it’s more than 1/2 full. I’ve tried using it myself to go to/from MSP, but the schedule is too limited to take the chance of a flight delay, so I’ve only used it when I have a better than 80% chance of not being delayed past the last train West. I can’t imagine any business with that much required capital investment making it with that small of a customer base.

  4. Have these people looked at population density?

    Why yes, yes they have, and it shocks, shocks, I say, their collectivist heart to the core that people would commit the evil sin of urban sprawl to get away from the metropolis.

    Have they ever surveyed the populace to determine where/when they need to go downtown?

    The fact that the populace DOESN’T need to go downtown is a societal ill that Must. Be. Corrected.

    I can’t imagine any business with that much required capital investment making it with that small of a customer base.

    It doesn’t matter how small of a customer base you have when you have a constituency overflowing with low information voters to keep sending you back to power, and the power of the gun to keep affecting societal engineering and smart growth.

  5. Bill C says: Have these people looked at population density?

    Public transport is good for connecting a hub where thousands of people live to a hub where thousands of people work, as long as its the same people. But modern economies do not have huge factories with thousands of workers. Most workers work in small firms with less than 100 workers. They live in all sorts of different places, for all sorts of different reasons. Public transport requires both high density housing and businesses. There will probably always be places where public transport makes the most sense, but outside of the core of big cities a more flexible and customizable solution is needed for the 21st century economy.

  6. Emery: That’s called a bus that can drive on existing roads, and change its route based on the needs of the passengers. That is not LRT that costs upwards of a billion dollars per route. We have SW LRT already in the works, NW LRT going up Hwy 81 planned to start in 2018, and my prediction for the next one is a leg running from St Paul down to Hastings. By the time they’re done we’ll have $10-15B of LRT sucking up ginormous amounts of taxpayer subsidies because it will NEVER make as much money as it will cost to run.

    When I was in college back in 1990, I took a slough-off class called “Geography of Maps”. The professor gave a 45 minute speech (using ONLY maps as data sources, nothing else) outlining why the population density of the twin cities metro area would never ever financially suppport LRT. The prime reason for our population density level (or lack thereof)? We have no natural geographical boundary. Chicago has Lake Michigan. NYC has the waterways and ocean. L.A. has the Pacific ocean on the west side and the Coastal mountain range on the north and east sides. We have a river that can be crossed with freeway bridges.

    He didn’t take into account that we would one day have social engineers trying to artifically draw boundaries to discourage or prevent people from living where they want to live, nor have politicians with a fetish for 19th century technology.

  7. NY, Boston and DC all built their towns AROUND the subways. If they are profit-neutral its because the city didn’t have to uproot and destroy towns to build their grid. Still, it’s the source of so many choo-choo patriots who need to point to places where light rail actually delivers a service without bankrupting the local govt.

  8. I agree with Emery . . . I think.
    Rail systems have a high capital cost and high fixed expenses, and their routes are very expensive to change.
    Mass transit changed from rail to buses after WW2 for very good economic reasons.

  9. Emery nailed a key fact that transit planners don’t so much miss as “are trying to roll back”.

    I wrote about this years ago; Joel Kotkin notes that the notion of the city as we understand it today – a dense administrative, government and industrial core with outlying neighborhoods where people live – is a recent thing, entirely created BY the industrial age and its mode of communication, the rail line. Now that communications have radically changed, that model is gone, and it’s never voluntarily coming back.

  10. Indeed, why go downtown? My office is in downtown Minneapolis, and it typically takes me about 30 minutes to drive to work. If I chose to, however, I could accomplish about 90% of my job from home using my laptop, soft-phone (puts all the functions of my office phone on my computer), web-cam and my company’s IT infrastructure that allows me to meet face-to-face with anyone in the company – even if they are in Australia, which is where I’ll be “going” this evening. The last company I worked for was also a global company and it has spent the last four or five years trying to move more and more of its workforce into work-at-home scenarios in order to decrease the company’s “footprint” in expensive urban centers. (Now that’s a “green” solution – reduce the need for transit in the first place!)

    I had some positive experiences with taking the light rail to work, but ultimately it wasn’t worth the hassle with my schedule so I’m back to driving. As pointed out by others earlier, though, there’s really little need for me to get “downtown”. Shopping is readily available near my home and I make most purchases on-line now anyway. Good restaurants and entertainment are also handy – or I can just stay in and stream even newly-released movies into my home entertainment center. If I did need to go downtown, say, once or twice a year it would be convenient I suppose to have a dedicated rail line to help with that, but not at the cost of building and maintaining it and running the cars three-quarters empty 18 hours of the day.

Leave a Reply