edited April 8 to distinguish revenue and subsidy
Among the reasons put forth by Northstar advocates for its un-success to date is the un-construction of several potential stations. Ramsey Town Center is a well-documented boondoggle. The lack of a Coon Rapids-Foley Boulevard station, at the intersection of Northstar and Hwy 610 is more plausible as a source for the un-success, as that site has at least some potential as an interceptor for park-and-ride trips to downtown Minneapolis.
Another issue Michael Setty raised is the lack of mid-day service. This is a serious problem for anyone with any schedule uncertainty (i.e. almost everyone). Again this goes back to the “commuting to the center” mindset that serve as blinders on planners. The difficulty in part is that BNSF rather than local governments own the lines, and are dealing from a position of weakness in trying to shimmy the Commuter RR service on someone else’s freight lines. I suggested before, it would be cheaper for the US to buy all the freight railroads, take what Right-of-Way it wants, and then sell the rest back than to negotiate piecemeal (even though I think this would be a bad idea).
I personally believe however in this case further investment is throwing good money after bad. While all of those things would no doubt increase ridership, Northstar is at best premature. Since it is a service rather than infrastructure (mostly), running it at a continuing loss is a major problem, and drains resources for many other things. The annual Northstar operating subsidy expense ($16.8 million) is more than the cuts to Transit proposed by the Minnesota Senate ($32 million over 2 years). According to the Metropolitan Council, revenue is $2.8 million, so the direct operating subsidy (excluding capital, and indirect subsidies like park and ride lots) is $14 million.
That is, if the Northstar were eliminated, almost no other services would have to suffer. Just a thought.
Ramsey Town Center
Foley Boulevard Station