Dan Patch Rail Line Moratorium on Hold

Courtesy Northfield Historical Society.jpg

At their meeting on Tuesday evening, Northfield City Council member Suzie Nakasian reported that the language to lift the ban on the Dan Patch Rail Line was not included in the legislature’s 2013 transportation bill. Although Senator Kevin Dahle succeeded in getting approval from the full senate for his proposal, Representative David Bly’s companion bill never got a hearing in the House Transportation Committee.

The historical short line railroad from Minneapolis to Northfield was named after racehorse owner Marion W. Savage’s champion steed, Dan Patch. In 1902, Savage planned a railroad connecting the Twin Cities to his farm south of the Minnesota River.  Though intended to be electrified, the company used gas-electric locomotives. The coaches were described as luxurious, with “red, plush seat cushions and fringed shades on the windows . . . “ After both Savage and Dan Patch’s death; the line was taken over and incorporated into the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railroad in 1918.  The MN&S corridor as it became known, expanded over time, carrying both passenger and freight until 1942, when with increased emphasis on freight traffic, the passenger service was ended.

In 1997, the legislature requested a Minnesota Department of Transportation study of the feasibility of Commuter Rail in Minnesota. The Dan Patch corridor was named one of the three in Minnesota with the highest potential for success.  During the 2002 session, two state legislators, William Belanger (R-Bloomington) and Roy Terwilliger (R-Edina), succeeded in passing a bill banning further study. (The Dan Patch rail line snakes through St. Louis Park, Edina and Bloomington, before connecting south to Savage, Lakeville and Northfield.)

Prompted by congestion along Interstates 35 and 35W, and by discussion about transit in general, in 2008 the first bill was introduced to lift the ban and continue the discussion. And this session, bills were introduced in both houses. This year, Representative Rob Erhardt, DFL-Edina and one of the original sponsors of the Dan Patch prohibition in 2002, said recently the railroad is “a stop on a foolish project.”  It is fine if a private company wants to develop the Dan Patch, but he doesn’t want government to pay for it.

In her report to the city council, Nakasian said “This outcome is disappointing, but there are gains to report. A number of key legislators have stated their support for lifting the ban.” She and others have made contact and alliances with other cities on the rail line interested in working to get the ban lifted. She also noted there is support not only from the Met Council which considers the ban an impediment to regional planning, but also MNDOT and the Office of the State Legislative Auditor. 

Nakasian concludes, “All of that, and the important attention given this issue by Sasha Aslanian of MPR, the Minneapolis Star Trib and the online journal Bluestem Prairie will serve us well in the next session . . . So though the inning is lost, the game looks promising for 2014.”