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The Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority

Saint Paul Multimodal Terminal Evaluation Study and Union Depot Analysis

Saint Paul, Minnesota

MTP1-RamseyThe Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority engaged LTK Engineering Services to evaluate four potential sites for a Downtown Saint Paul multimodal terminal incorporating commuter rail, Amtrak Intercity rail, future high-speed rail, light rail, and local and intercity bus services.  Evaluation criteria included site adequacy, ability to accommodate track connections to the railroad network while avoiding negative impacts on freight operations, availability of parking to support terminal functions, accessibility to modes of public transportation, and pedestrian and traffic accessibility.  Understanding of the track requirements and the capacity and performance needs of the adjacent freight railroads was a key consideration in carrying out this study.  Essential steps in the evaluation included development of an estimate of projected daily freight train traffic and patterns, as well as development of an estimate of daily passenger train traffic, and assessing the constructability and operational viability of each potential site relative to the layout and usage of the railroad track system. Phased terminal trackage and track space concepts were developed to assist in the evaluation step.  Based on assessments of all of the evaluation criteria, LTK recommended the former Saint Paul Union Depot site as the optimal location for the Multimodal Terminal.

Subsequently, the Authority engaged LTK in a follow-up study to develop a more specific construction cost estimates of the recommended Union Depot site, including phasing of railroad infrastructure improvements as rail traffic increases into the future and places additional demands on the region’s railroad infrastructure.  Using its contacts in the railroad industry, LTK was instrumental in developing constructive and continuing dialogue between the three  major freight railroads (BNSF, Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific) and the Authority, creating an understanding of railroad requirements to add trains to capacity-limited main lines.  LTK also incorporated the phased development concept with other providers of transportation services, including bus transit, inter-city bus service, and a projected light rail line.  Essential to the overall “stepped” cost estimate was preserving capacity for long-term growth and needs, while restraining capital expenditures at each stage in order to match investment to shorter-term capacity expansion requirements.

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Transbay Joint Powers Authority 

Transbay Terminal Improvement Plan

San Francisco, California

MTP2-TransbaySan Francisco’s Downtown Transbay Terminal was built in the 1930s to accommodate interurban trains operating across the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.  After the abandonment of rail service, the Terminal was modified for bus use, eventually including intercity as well as Transbay regional buses.  In recent years, Transbay bus patronage has grown.  In addition, plans have been made to have the California High Speed Rail System and Caltrain Peninsula commuter rail service come into the heart of Downtown San Francisco, using this facility.  In the late 1990s, LTK assisted SMWM, the noted San Francisco-based architectural firm, on a collaborative work approach for a recommendation.  The design moved from consideration of “program,” (Terminal function and content) through sketch design alternatives to a final recommendation, eventually receiving unanimous endorsement of the study panel members - a first for this facility.

Since the acceptance of the final recommendation, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority has been established, as well as a funding source, to progress the Transbay Terminal redevelopment.  The Terminal redevelopment is part of an overall economic redevelopment objective for the adjoining neighborhood.  The final certifications of the Environmental Impact Statements were being processed when an adjoining landowner pressed for alterations of the Terminal track plans, permitting him to redevelop immediately. 

LTK Engineering Services was called to compare the train throughput capacity of three alternative track and platform configurations in a critically short time frame of three weeks.  LTK approached the analysis by simulating the projected commuter and high-speed train movements (year 2020) over alternate track and platform concepts.  LTK also evaluated usable platform lengths, since some of the concepts created long platforms by extending them into sharp approach curves.  LTK demonstrated that the curvature approaching the platforms was too sharp to be considered usable for passenger loading, resulting in potentially shorter trains than planned.  With this analysis, LTK showed that the original Terminal design was near capacity for peak periods.  Alternative proposals that attempted to accommodate property redevelopment near the terminal were shown to impair the Terminal’s capacity and impact its capability to meet the projected 2020 demands.  LTK recommended staying with the design that was already done.

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Portland Development Commision (PDC)

Union Station Transportation Study

Portland, Oregon

In 1987, the Portland Development Commission purchased the city’s Union Station and an adjacent disused freight yard from the Portland Terminal Railroad.  PDC promptly renovated the historic 1896 head house, and developed a plan to redevelop the freight yard land as an attractive in-town apartment and business complex.  To maximize developable land, it was planned to remove all but three of the then-existing seven tracks and their associated platforms.

MTP3-PortlandUnionConcerned that this cutback might hamper future use of the facility as a rail passenger station, the City of Portland’s Office of Transportation hired LTK Engineering Services to assess the opportunities for both improved intercity and regional commuter rail passenger train services, and to recommend, based thereon, how much track and platform capacity should be retained at Union Station.  LTK conducted interviews with local, state, Amtrak, and freight railroad personnel to gain an understanding of existing and potential future train operations that might use the Union Station facility:

  • Freight trains moving to and from freight yards in Northwest Portland
  • Long-distance intercity passenger trains (Seattle-Los Angeles and Portland-Chicago routes)
  • Northwest Corridor passenger trains linking Eugene, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, BC
  • Commuter trains on one or more of nine rail corridors radiating out from Portland
  • Local light rail transit (LRT) trains and/or streetcars

LTK’s report recognized that even with significant expansions, most service would be through-routed, stopping at or passing Union Station, then continuing on to another destination.  It also became clear that neither LRT trains nor streetcars would need to enter the track side of Union Station.  With this information, it was recommended that 1) three tracks would not be sufficient;  but 2) five tracks would be adequate; and therefore, 3) two of the then-existing tracks and one platform could be retired to provide more land, in addition to the old freight yard, for constructing the new residential and business complex.

Since LTK’s report was written, freight and intercity train services have remained roughly constant; and the number of NW Corridor trains has trebled (from one to three daily trips in each direction).  With the facilities available, there is still room for further substantial intercity and/or commuter rail growth.

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