Commuters from Big Lake, MN to Minneapolis, and several points between, can now choose rail. Monday morning the first train left the far northwest exurb for the 45 mile trip to Minnesota’s largest city. The distance is nearly identical to traveling from Wentzville to downtown St. Louis. Perhaps it’s time to consider commuter rail for St. Louis.
There are groups focused on expanding MetroLink, those who wish to bring a trolley to the Delmar Loop, others work toward high-speed rail connecting St. Louis with Chicago and Kansas City and yet still others wonder why Metro’s bus stops and routes aren’t more accommodating. We need to look at our region as, well, a region and consider our transportation options.
For $317M, more or less, St. Louis could have a line to Wentzville, stopping in St. Charles along the way or a line to Eureka or Festus. Some would argue that our job centers are not concentrated enough to support commuter rail. But we only seal our fate as an auto-centric commuting region, committed to ever-expanding highways, if we do not build a more diverse transit infrastructure.
The Minneapolis line expects to carry 1,700 passengers per day. It is hoped that the line will eventually reach St. Cloud, another 20 miles to the northwest. I would be surprised if a Wentzville, St. Charles, St. Louis line would carry less. Of course an extension of MetroLink may prove to be a viable alternative. Many would say that MetroLink already serves largely as commuter rail, though I would say this is more the case in Illinois.
The benefit of new commuter like the Northstar line is amenities. Comfortable seats, wide aisles, outlets for laptops, wi-fi and more make a 40 minute ride more enjoyable and productive (not to mention safer) than driving. The trains in Minnesota travel nearly 80 MPH and depart Big Lake every half hour between 5-7:30 a.m. and Minneapolis from 4-6:30 p.m.