"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”  

Jane Jacobs

The Resurgence of Trains

Today has been an interesting weather day. I watched the forecast go from rain all day, to a brief respite in the morning, to sitting on my deck in the sunshine writing this post. Not knowing we would luck out with this beautiful weather, I spent the first 9 miles of my 18 mile run on the treadmill reading a planning magazine. Most people might dread the thought of 9 miles on a treadmill (I listened to a podcast where an inmate ran a marathon on a treadmill to emulate the Boston Marathon, now that's dreadful), but I was distracted by the transportation articles which fueled today's post.

The article that most interested me was Rail Relationships because it acknowledged the need to build adjacent to long standing rail infrastructure as urban cities run out of land, but also addressed the economic need to preserve their operations. The most interesting facts compared the efficiency and cost of moving goods by rail to trucks. Rail was shown to cost less, be more fuel efficient, and safer. As someone who is a fan of trains (thanks to my dad's passion for them) I am all for their resurgence. 

Wall of shipping containers waiting to be loaded onto a train

Wall of shipping containers waiting to be loaded onto a train

Anyone stuck behind a train for 10 minutes might disagree with me, especially if this occurs on a daily basis during their commute. The answer to this problem, which the City of Anoka is currently working on, is constructing bridges or underpasses at track crossings. This allows the trains to continue moving product, but allows traffic to flow and increases safety. You cannot find this kind of solution for semi traffic which often slows cars down on the interstate or blocks traffic when delivering to dense urban areas.

The old Soo Line bridge in Columbia Park

The old Soo Line bridge in Columbia Park

As we embrace development near existing rail lines and yards we need to be cognizant of their relationship. When I lived in Lincoln I loved summer nights with the windows open because I could hear the train horns off in the distance as they passed through town. I was always curious how the residents of the houses less than 100 feet from the tracks felt about them. Without sound barriers or berms they would receive the full impact of noise and vibration. These are problems the author identified as necessary to plan for when developing projects adjacent to rail.

Another major concern identified was land use. Back in the day, there was no consideration given to residential developments next to rail lines, which is why we have so many. Now we need to pay special attention to the types of uses we allow next to rail lines. In Rochester while I worked there, a developer wanted to locate an apartment complex next to a rail line. The site plan even showed the tot lot next to the rail, a dangerous location for children to play. Lincoln recently worked to relocate rail lines to allow for the expansion of the Historic Haymarket District. The West Haymarket includes a new event arena, commercial buildings, and apartments. The layout of the district was done in a manner that protects both the rail function in its new location and the residential units.

The historic train passenger platform canopy and rail landscaping in the West Haymarket 

The historic train passenger platform canopy and rail landscaping in the West Haymarket 

Despite your love or hate of trains for their disruptive tendencies, they provide a necessary function in our economy. They can also be a solution to environmental concerns and increase safety in the supply chain. I support their resurgence and hope to see cities embrace them and plan for their continued use. Another perk of rail lines is the famous Holiday Train, something I would hate to lose.

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train that rolls through the mid-west every winter.

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train that rolls through the mid-west every winter.