Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where those new railyards could go

So, if we did have millions of dollars just sitting somewhere...or maybe if we were God...where would we reroute those railroad tracks and just where would we put those new railyards? I'm thinking rerouting the lines north of town would be the most logical. Below is a little map I put together showing two possible routes that I came up with. The colored lines are the tracks and the squares show potential sites for the railyards. What do you think?


MattFacingSouth said...

Couple of problems I can see:

1) BNSF will still need to run a spur into the existing yard for the steam plant and the other businesses in that area. Unless, of, course, you want to pick up the tab to move them, too.

2) I don't know what the status of the wetlands to the north and west of the airport are, but my guess is they're protected and you're not going to have a lot of luck putting a track through them.

3) It benefits BNSF greatly if they don't have to make 90 degree turns. If you're coming off the main line from the west, better to make a 45 across the fields for the end-around north.

4) That's an awful lot of extra road for the trains coming from the south - lots of unnecessary turns. Still would need a bridge on hwy 2.

5) The connection to the main line across highway 2 in EGF is no longer a BNSF right-of-way. You'd have to plow a bunch of businesses and piss off EGF to make that happen. Not to mention that would go right through Crystal Sugar's existing yard and there really isn't room to put a main line through there.

6) All the above notwithstanding, the blue route is a better choice because of the existing bridge infrastructure on I-29. However, there would still need to be two more road bridges, plus the river bridge. Unless, of course, you're looking to do grade-level crossings on HWY 2(NO!).

7) If you really want to bypass GF, then bypass GF. Make the line reconnect north of the wye at UM Crookston.

7a) If you do that you're still going to have to somehow run a spur to Fisher and Crystal Sugar in EGF, which is going to be a long way back from Crookston.

In the end, considering the existing infrastructure and the needs of current business, it seems like a lot of trouble for not much benefit.

If I'm playing Sim City with you, I'm going to break off from the existing main line just east of Arvilla, cut SE through the alkali flat (to minimize ROW through good farmland) and put the yard just to the west of I-29, north of Thompson. Then go under a new I-29 bridge 2 miles north of Thompson and rejoin the existing track outside of Fisher.

The spur north into Grand Forks would only need to go through the existing yard and up to the mill. You could eliminate the downtown portion and bridge. For EGF traffic, well it's not that far from Fisher.

See, it's fun to play, but you have to put the yard in Thompson; if you're going to piss people off, do it right.

But no way it's going to happen - too much logistical trouble your way, too much NIMBY mine, and too costly for either.

JWGreen said...

The existing spur from the tracks following US 81 following N 42nd could be used for access to the UND steam plant. What about the old railroad grade north of the airport/south of the sewage lagoons? If you put the river crossing just south of the new drainage ditch along 20th Ave S and connect to the track that already exists part of the way out there, that could function as the spur as well, continue north of the airport and then make a 45 turn south and connect with the tracks south of US 2. The only tracks following DeMers ave then would be the short spur from 42nd to the steam plant and west of the current Amtrak station.

I like the idea of connecting south of the city though. Going from Fischer to 1 mile north of Thompson and connecting with the N/S route would work, and then for access to the various spurs into town, a track could be placed west of 69th St S (would go along the edge of the city owned landfill) and then connect to the spur south of the sewage lagoons and continue north to connect with the US 81 tracks west of interstate. The amount of traffic that would be crossing US 2 on this track would be the same as what is already crossing highway 2 on the line east of Washington, which is currently a grade crossing, but it could be made into an overpass as well.

MattFacingSouth said...

But you're ignoring two major problems: what are you going to do with highway 2? Building an overpass near the airport may pose a problem with Federally-mandated clear areas and certainly it's going to be a major undertaking to build an overpass where it rejoins in EGF, especially considering the proximity of the parallel track to the highway.

The fact remains that it's not bad how it is now. A little inconvenient, yes, but vital to the economy and WAY too expensive to change. It'd be far easier and way less expensive to upgrade the 42nd crossing and replace the existing bridge over the Red.

Logan said...

If they ever did get it moved, tear down the steam-plant while you're at it and put a wind farm in there, with green space on the land. That would be a terrific sight, landmark, and tourist attraction. Plus UND wouldn't need to burn 7 rail-cars worth of coal a day!

MattFacingSouth said...

How is a wind farm going to generate the the thermal energy necessary to heat UND much less Altru, Agassiz school, the ND School for the Blind, and the EERC?

JWGreen said...

A underpass could be built on US 2 near the airport, and if the tracks go from the south, that eliminates the awkward crossing in EGF.

OUWxGuesser said...

Plus the wind farm could take care of the pigeons that M.H. despises so much. Hah.

Meest said...

Logan does not obviously know how the steam plant works, nor the wide reach it plays in heating buildings. Tearing down the steam plant would just be the start... you would then have to convert every building on UND campus to be electric heat, along with the EERC, ALtru, and Lake aggissiz/school for the blind.

Thats alot of conversion that is not cost effective

Logan said...

I, in fact, do understand how coal is heating water and pushing it through the underbelly of this part of town. My suggestion was based on an eventual need to convert from non-renewable energy sources, to renewable. With the inevitable expansion of campus, we shouldn't just assume we can keep trucking in more rail-cars full of coal to heat it all. Currently, no, the cost of conversion probably wouldn't be justified. However, over the long run, every building dependent on that steam plant will have to convert. Better sooner than later.

Matthew said...

Electricity is the future, if we can produce it renewably. It would take a large chunk of change to convert from central steam to electricity in every building, but wouldn't the simpler way be to convert the steam plant to use electricity to heat the water?

OUWxGuesser said...

Wind energy isn't the complete solution either... it's better as a supplement to the grid. Tech is out there to burn coal relatively cleanly (carbon capturing and sequestration)... it just costs $$$$

Lets get some breeder reactors to heat up the water to steam ;)

GrandForksGuy said...

I love the conversation here. I fully realize that this plan has almost no chance of happening in the near future. Still, I think it is very productive and beneficial to brainstorm about possible improvements to the city. A city that doesn't dream about the future is destined to have no future.

Logan said...

My position about steam heating our campus is personal. As a fourth-year UND student, I've been in most of the buildings on campus for one reason or another, and for extended periods of time. I can conclude, without a doubt, that UND is wasting energy to heat it's buildings. Last summer I stayed in one of the residence halls on campus, and the heat was still flowing for most of the summer! O'Kelly hall has air conditioner units in the windows that are insulated by little more than garbage bags during the winter, which causes the heat to be cranked up, which in a class full of students, causes professors to open windows! Merrifield hall, has radiators in the stairways to keep out the cold let in by the outdated single-pane glass that is original to the building. I can go on about how inefficient UND is with their energy use. How about the fact that they light the walkway over Columbia even on the sunniest days? The steam plant is just one of the methods UND uses to waste energy.

Matthew said...

I agree that UND could be a great deal more efficient in most ways. For example, EERC has motion sensors in the hallways to turn off the lights when nobody is present; the lights in my building are on so constantly (for absolutely no reason) that I've taken to hanging signs asking people to turn them off when they leave the room. I'm not that old, but I was at least taught energy conservation (don't leave the water running, turn of the lights, shut the door when it's cold out, etc.)--do people not live that way anymore?

Logan, perhaps you could get in contact with ECO (Environmental Conservation Organization) at UND. I think they are trying to get the university to reduce energy consumption. The contact person is Sierra Kraft.

Logan said...

Matthew, thank you for the contact info. I am sympathetic with your plight. While I can be somewhat of a hypocrite at times, there's always something we can do to conserve energy and simply stop wasting resources.

Basement Chard said...

GFGuy, this has been a pipe dream of mine as well. You may know that an architect by the name of Scott Meland proposed this back in the late 90's. There are of course a ton of questions and it really is a pipe dream, no doubt about it. But, it would be a great way to connect campus and downtown, make the city more compact and livable and reduce sprawl.

However, why does it have to be so complicated. Couple things to consider:

Do we have to remove all the tracks? Seems to me that if we just moved the railyard to the industrial park (city just purchased more land out there), one track could still be kept to serve UND and the sugar beet plant.

I think one track, fenced off to keep people away from it would work. Next to the fenced off track could be a BRT line. BRT is Bus Rapid Transit. It would be a line that could run really fast w/o interference from traffic between downtown, campus, Altru and the Alerus. Next to the BRT road, there would be a thin stretch of green space with a multi-use pedestrian trail. The rest would be open to private mixed use development.

The feds are focused on energy and efficiency at the moment. I think within the next ten years the focus will move to land use. Less subsidy of sprawl and more federal funds available for infill development and brownfield rehabilitation (which this site would qualify for).