Work is now underway on the $957 million Central Corridor Light Rail project. The train will connect downtown St. Paul to Downtown Minneapolis. The initial stage of construction involves the relocation of utilities – and as it turns out, removing the existing train tracks under the asphalt of University Avenue:
These tracks are the remnants of the old Twin City Rapid Transit Company’s trolley system. The trolley system began with horse drawn cars in the late 1860s that eventually gave way to electric trains by the turn of the century. The electric trolleys, in turn, were gradually supplanted by cars and busses, with the last trolley line closing in 1954. Buses were simply cheaper, more flexible, and more convenient for servicing the transportation needs of a growing metro area.
The new light rail tracks will go exactly over the location of the old tracks down the center of University Avenue.
What has happened in the last half-century to make trains more economically viable? Absolutely nothing. Busses and cars are still cheaper, more efficient ways to move people; they are just not as romantic to our many urban idealists.
Most of the central corridor route is currently served by the number 16 bus line. One might expect that a $957 million train would at least be able to replace it. But no, according to the Met Council:
“The corridor will continue to have Route 16 buses on University Avenue, running at 20-minute intervals, for riders traveling to and from locations not immediately served by rail stations, as well as express buses on Interstate 94 between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul.”
The decline and fall of the trolley system is a piece of history we seem destined to repeat.