Passenger rail between the Twin Cities and Duluth: How a monster was born and raised | StarTribune

Ailene Croup writes “ Passenger rail between the Twin Cities and Duluth: How a monster was born and raised” in the StarTribune, and mentions my name …

David Levinson spoke to community members at that time, informing them that passenger rail does not make enough money to pay for itself. It is subsidized by tax dollars.

Levinson held the Richard P. Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation Engineering at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies from 2006 to 2016. He served as faculty in the school’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering and was noted as a prolific transportation researcher. He specialized in rail transportation.

He said the environmental impact of putting a train on the tracks was significant, such as the proposed multibillion-dollar rail line in California, which would leave a carbon footprint for 150 years.

The NLX project was finally turned over to MnDOT in 2016, but the alliance continues as a lobbying group supported by tax dollars from participating counties and cities. The alliance consists of and is now funded by the Hennepin County Rail Authority; the cities of Duluth, Minneapolis, Cambridge, Sandstone and Superior, Wis.; and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Through the years, private partnership with NLX was under discussion, but it never came to fruition.

The model for NLX has gone from high-speed rail to a less stressful ride from Duluth to Minneapolis where riders can tally “billable hours.” Or, a ride to college for students.

Levinson said it would take many hundreds of riders each day and many, many trips daily for NLX to even pay for itself.

The poor counties of central Minnesota do not need another transportation tax to take riders to Target Field. The rest of the state should not be responsible for subsidizing this luxury, either. Northstar Rail is the lesson, with taxpayers subsidizing $18 to $22 per rider since it was put on the tracks.

NLX has nothing to offer east-central and greater Minnesota other than the promise of higher taxes for subsidized transportation that does not serve them.

I have written about the NLX previously on the blog, and am surprised to see it alive, but I guess this confirms my thesis about zombies.

The Transportist: April 2019

Welcome to the April 2019 issue of The Transportist, especially to our new readers. As always you can follow along at the or on Twitter.

March was notable for the launch of A Political Economy of Access

Book: A Political Economy of Access

Now available: A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King, in paper and PDF.


Why should you read another book about transport and land use? This book differs in that we won’t focus on empirical arguments – we present political arguments. We argue the political aspects of transport policy shouldn’t be assumed away or treated as a nuisance. Political choices are the core reasons our cities look and function the way they do. There is no original sin that we can undo that will lead to utopian visions of urban life.

The book begins by introducing and expanding on the idea of Accessibility. Then we proceed through several major parts: Infrastructure Preservation, Network Expansion, Cities, and Institutions. Infrastructure preservation concerns the relatively short-run issues of how to maintain and operate the existing surface transport system (roads and transit). Network expansion in contrast is a long-run problem, how to enlarge the network, or rather, why enlarging the network is now so difficult. Cities examines how we organize, regulate, and expand our cities to address the failures of transport policy, and falls into the time-frame of the very long-run, as property rights and land uses are often stickier than the concrete of the network is durable. In the part on Institutions we consider things that might at first blush appear to be short-run and malleable, are in fact very long-run. Institutions seem to outlast the infrastructure they manage.

Many of the transport and land use problems we want to solve already have technical solutions. What these problems don’t have, and what we hope to contribute, are political solutions. We expect the audience for this book to be practitioners, planners, engineers, advocates, urbanists, students of transport, and fellow academics.


Transport Findings

The new open access journal Transport Findings continues to add articles. Follow the journal on Twitter. Visit the journal. Read. Submit. Cite. This month’s articles include:

Posts at the Blog

My Posts at WalkSydney



And the winner of the NSW State Parliamentary Elections is … the COALition (the Liberals and Nationals)

Transit and Microtransit

Automated, Autonomous, Driverless, and Self-Driving Vehicles, and Semi-Autonomous Systems 

Human-Driven Vehicles, Signs, Signals, Sensors, and Markings, and Roads

Shared Vehicles/Ride-sharing/Ride-hailing/Taxis/Car Sharing

Micromobility: Human-Powered Vehicles/Bikes/Pedestrians/Scooters/eBikes/Last-Mile/First-Mile/Last-Meter/First-Meter/etc.


Land Use

Retail, Wholesale, Logistics, Supply Chain, Freight

Intercity Trains


Science Fiction




Papers by Us

  • Yokoo, Toshi, and Levinson, D. (2019) Measures of Speeding from a GPS-based Travel Behavior Survey. Traffic Injury Prevention. [doi]
  • Carrion, Carlos and David Levinson (2019) Route choice dynamics after a link restoration. Transportmetrica B: Transport Dynamics [doi]

Books by Others