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Fuhrmann leaves passenger rail legacy for generations to come 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, August 09, 2018 10:00:00 AM

Decades from now, people taking trains to college classes, a hospital shift or office job, to restaurants and sporting venues, or to the airport won’t have a clue they have Mark Fuhrmann to thank.

Even today, many have not heard of Fuhrmann—and that’s by his design. Metro Transit’s director of light rail and commuter rail projects has deliberately avoided public recognition.

He carefully stood behind office holders at public events and ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the METRO Blue Line in 2004, Northstar commuter rail in 2009 and Green Line in 2014. (This wasn’t difficult, given his modest height, or his trim figure maintained by 4 a.m. daily runs in all kinds of weather.) If politicians insisted that Fuhrmann join them in the foreground for a photo-op, he would politely oblige but later direct staff to crop him out of the frame.

But leaders at Metro Transit and Metropolitan Council recognize Fuhrmann as the person responsible for the region’s 62 miles of passenger rail (40 miles for Northstar and 22 for LRT). Upon hearing that Fuhrmann is retiring on Aug. 14 after serving the region for 25 years, their praise was universal.

“I can’t imagine how we would have built the Blue Line, Green Line and Northstar commuter rail without Mark’s dogged determination, intelligence and extraordinary professionalism,” said Susan Haigh, who was Council chair when the Green Line opened, and when preliminary engineering started on Southwest LRT (the Green Line extension). “He persevered through the most challenging political conversations imaginable and was always been a beacon of integrity for me.”

Finest of public servants’

“I have had the opportunity to work with many fine public servants in my career, and Mark Fuhrmann is simply the best of the best,” Haigh said. “Mark is able to unravel complex engineering issues and identify the pros and cons of strategic choices for decision makers. He is brilliant, prepared, thoughtful, determined and always respectful to his colleagues. Our rail lines have carried millions of passengers thanks to Mark Fuhrmann. These extraordinary investments have transformed the communities they serve and our entire region.”

Peter Bell, who was Council chair during the Green Line’s engineering and early construction phases, relied on Fuhrmann’s judgment and integrity as they moved the project forward.

“Honest, straight shooting and unflappable is how I would describe Mark,” Bell said. “He was very calm under intense pressure because he always had his facts right. I was always amazed at how people on all sides of the transit issue might disagree with one of our conclusions but never the facts that Mark presented.”

Former Council Regional Administrator Pat Born said Fuhrmann’s mark on the region will last at least a century. “The major transit investments Mark has led have already moved millions of riders to school, work and fun places. They have created thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment,” Born said.

Since the inception of the two LRT lines and Northstar, Metro Transit has served more than 190 million passengers on its rails. At last count earlier this year, more than $8 billion in development investment has occurred or is planned on the Blue and Green lines and their planned extensions to the southwest and northwest. The projects have so transformed the region and communities they serve that as municipalities refresh their comprehensive plans this year, many seek to focus development and density around existing and future transit stations.

Encyclopedic memory, focus on quality and ethics

The public often saw Fuhrmann’s encyclopedic memory for events, dates and financial information on display at public meetings, but he has another side that is less known, Born said.

“Mark’s quiet dignity and ferocious stands for quality and ethics are often overlooked. Building transit projects in the Twin Cities has meant facing huge obstacles and dealing with angry and often powerful people. Mark respected all of them but kept his head down and pushed forward,” Born said.

Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb, Fuhrmann’s supervisor, announced Fuhrmann’s retirement to staff “with great appreciation – and a healthy dose of sadness.”

“With his departure, he hands off projects that are ready to enter construction. Both Blue and Green Line extensions are rated by the Federal Transit Administration as “medium high” and deserve to secure Full Funding Grant Agreements soon. He has expertly guided those projects to their current point,” Lamb said.

Career path in public transit led him to nation’s capital, back home

Fuhrmann is fond of saying he was born at the former Midway Hospital on the Green Line and grew up in northern Golden Valley “in the shadow of Theodore Wirth Park,” which the Blue Line extension will bisect for part of its 13.5 miles from Target Field to Brooklyn Park. He attended Robbinsdale High School and earned his undergraduate degree in urban geography from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

In his first foray into public service, Fuhrmann interned in the summer of 1981 with the Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission. He supported the operations and maintenance task force.

“One of the recommendations we came up with was to seek permission from the Legislature to levy a candy tax. It didn’t get any traction,” Fuhrmann recalled, with a smile.

After finishing his graduate studies in planning at the University of Minnesota, Fuhrmann worked for a private bus company. He then moved to Washington, D.C., to work on the build-out of the Metro system from 1985 to 1993. His assignment was in northern Virginia, where he worked on the opening of three Metro extensions and the introduction of the first two commuter rail lines in northern Virginia, the Virginia Railway Express. After eight years, he returned to Minnesota to work for the Metropolitan Council’s transportation division.

It was an opportunity to come back home and be closer to family while working in his area of professional practice.

“Initially, rail discussions were not positive,” Fuhrmann noted, “but then in 1998 Governor Arne Carlson and the Legislature decided to approve the first installment of $40 million in funding for Hiawatha.” Fuhrmann eventually became project director of the METRO Blue and Green Lines and Northstar Commuter Rail Line when they were in engineering and under construction. The Minnesota Public Transit Association named him the state’s 2014 Transit Professional of the Year.

“Twenty years later, we have three rail lines in revenue service that have served over 190 million passengers, and the two LRT extensions are well positioned to secure federal funding and go into construction soon,” Fuhrmann said.

Fuhrmann recalls a career highlight of giving President Barack Obama and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx a tour of the Green Line’s operations and maintenance facility on Feb. 26, 2014. “I was deeply honored to be asked to host the president and secretary. I still pinch myself that that actually happened.”

Another highlight was giving Gov. Jesse Ventura a tour of the Hiawatha LRT Project Office in 2001, the first full year of construction. “Contrary to his public persona, he was a very thoughtful and curious leader who wanted to know more about the project and when we were going to open it.”  

Next stop: Northern Indiana rail projects with HDR Engineering

Although Fuhrmann officially is retiring, he starts a second career in August. His new title is associate vice president for HDR Engineering. He will serve as HDR’s program director for New Starts projects for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District (NICTD), which operates commuter rail service between South Bend, Ind., and Millennium Station in downtown Chicago.

With an average weekday ridership of about 11,500 passengers, NICTD is the only interurban electrified line that continues in operation in the United States. Service began in 1908. NICTD has two New Starts projects that Fuhrmann will shepherd from their offices in Chesterton, Ind. One is West Lake, a nine-mile southerly extension of the South Shore Line between Hammond and Dyer, Ind., in western Lake County. The second one is the Double Track Project, which will install a double track where currently only a single track lies between Gary and Michigan City. Trains traveling in opposite directions will no longer need to take turns.

“I recognized at the Council’s 50th anniversary celebration earlier this year that 2018 was my 25th year anniversary with the Council,” Fuhrmann said. “I have seen a lot of great things for the last 25 years of the Council’s existence. It made me reflect maybe there are some new challenges and opportunities out there that I should explore.”

“The thing that makes me sad is I am going to miss the dedication of all my colleagues and the friendship of working with them all these years as we all worked with one purpose in mind: to build out the METRO system here in the Twin Cities,” he said.

Fuhrmann had some words of wisdom for staff as he leaves. “Communicate, collaborate and coordinate with all the stakeholders – political, community and staff,” he said.

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Super Bowl festivities boost ridership 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, March 09, 2018 2:30:00 PM

Super Bowl festivities provided a notable ridership boost earlier this year.  

The Green and Blue lines and the Northstar Commuter Rail Line each saw their highest-ever January ridership totals and nearly 210,000 additional rides were taken over more than a week’s worth of Super Bowl events.

Super Bowl festivities began on Friday, Jan. 26 and continued through gameday, Sunday, Feb. 4. Ridership on those dates increased about 12 percent measured against comparable dates.

Ridership was boosted in part thanks to extra service that was offered to Super Bowl festivities. More than 17,500 rides were provided to and from downtown Minneapolis from area Park & Rides where special express bus trips were offered. 

Fares collected during the 10-day period offset the cost of the extra service that was provided.

In all, nearly 6.4 million rides were provided in January, including more than 1 million Green Line rides, nearly 823,000 Blue Line rides and close to 67,000 Northstar rides.

“Going into the Super Bowl, we felt like the months of preparation had us ready to show the world how a first-class transit system contributes to the success of this international spectacle,” said Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb. “Looking back, we proved to hundreds of thousands of fans, visitors and everyday riders that our system and employees were more than a contribution. We were essential to the success of our region during all of Super Bowl 52’s events.”

> WCCO: Inside Metro Transit's unprecedented Super Bowl plan

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Rail lines set records as Metro Transit ridership tops 81.9 million in 2017 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, January 25, 2018 3:00:00 PM

A record number of light rail and commuter rail rides were taken in 2017 as Metro Transit’s annual ridership topped 81.9 million. 

Metro Transit has provided more than 80 million rides in each of the past seven years, sustaining the highest ridership the agency has seen in three decades. Average weekday ridership in 2017 was 264,347. 

“Last year’s strong ridership underscores just how many people across the region are relying on us to get them safely to and from work, school and many other destinations,” Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb said. “On behalf of everyone at Metro Transit, I’d like to thank all those who are placing their confidence in us and making transit a part of their lives.”

The 2017 ridership total includes a record 13.1 million rides on the METRO Green Line, which has seen ridership grow every year since its 2014 opening and had its highest single-day ridership ever on Aug. 31, 2017. Nearly 10.7 million rides were taken on the Blue Line, breaking the previous record set in 2015. 

Ridership on the Green Line increased about 3.5 percent compared to 2016, while Blue Line ridership increased nearly 4 percent. 

Nearly 794,000 rides were provided on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line, a nearly 12 percent increase over 2016. Last year’s Northstar ridership broke a record set in 2013. 

Metropolitan Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff announced the ridership records in her State of the Region address on Thursday

“Congratulations and thank you to all our Metro Transit employees who play a role in providing a service that people across this region use in record numbers. This is yet another reminder that we do truly have one of the best transit systems in the nation,” said Chair Tchourumoff.

“2017 was a trifecta for our rail lines in the metro,” Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said. “With gas prices hovering at $2.50 per gallon, all three of our rail lines – Green, Blue, and Northstar – set ridership records. These three rail lines now constitute 31 percent of all rides on Metro Transit. This is another piece of strong evidence that rail investment is good for the Twin Cities.”

Systemwide, ridership remained essentially flat compared to 2016. 

Metro Transit provided more than 57.3 million bus rides in 2017, including more than 1.5 million rides on the A Line. Average weekday ridership in the A Line corridor has increased by about one-third since the rapid bus line opened. 

“The A Line is a prime example of the investments this region needs,” said B Kyle, president & CEO of the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. “Bus rapid transit is an integral part of the system, which we know the vast majority of people are using to get to work or school. Every day I hear from our business members how critical transit investments are to their ability to attract and retain talent.”

“Our region needs to keep the momentum we’re seeing with these ridership records,” said Jonathan Weinhagen, president & CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Continuing to maintain and improve our regional system will pay huge dividends for everyone, not just the business community. We’ve reached a tipping point where maintaining the status quo means we’re falling behind our peer regions. It’s time to double down on transit investment.”

Total bus ridership declined about two percent. The decline mirrors a national trend attributed in part to low gas prices. Ridership losses were greatest during off-peak hours and on routes that were detoured off Nicollet Mall during construction. 

  2017 Ridership 2017 Average Weekday Ridership

Bus

55,751,961

184,736

Green Line

13,142,163

40,554

Blue Line

10,668,832

31,510

A Line

1,570,670

4,727

Northstar

793,796

2,819

Total

81,927,422

264,347

 

Learn more about Metro Transit's 2017 accomplishments

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Big snow met with persistence, praise 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, January 23, 2018 12:56:00 PM

The Twin Cities was hit with its biggest winter storm in seven years on Monday, bringing a foot or more of snow to several parts of the metro.

Snow-covered roads and traffic delays caused widespread bus delays, with many operators pulling in hours after their shifts were scheduled to come to an end. Street Supervisors and Mechanic Technicians spent a large part of the evening responding to buses that had become stuck in the snow. Public Facilities Workers and Facilities Technicians were also out throughout the night and following day clearing snow from boarding locations (How does Metro Transit prioritize snow removal? Good Question!

The demand for service updates during the storm was overwhelming: Transit Information Center representatives handled more than 3,400 calls on Monday, 25 percent higher than the average weekday call volume. The number of customers using the “Show My Bus” feature, the online tool that shows where buses are at in real time, also saw a huge increase in usage.

Despite the difficulties, many customers expressed their appreciation.

Operator Thomas Logan received two commendations from customers who were impressed with the way he handled his stuck bus, 146A: 

"Everyone transferred onto Thomas' bus, but it too became stuck in the exact same spot. Infinitely patient Thomas persevered, however, rocking our bus to and fro, to and fro, for a good 15 minutes until he finally got it moving. We all clapped and cheered him on! He made the turn onto 50th St., but it wasn't long before he ran into more stranded buses with more spinning wheels, as well as cars blocking the road in every haphazard way imaginable -- in other words, countless obstacles to our continued progress. Thomas persevered patiently, diligently and carefully until we finally crossed Highway 100 into Edina. Thomas not only exemplifies "Minnesota Nice," but he's a driver of superb skill with a genuinely humane nature, and he does Metro Transit proud. He deserves your highest commendation for his outstanding level of service last night."

"You need many more drivers to be like Thomas. He was just great in the face of very poor weather and driving conditions. Wonderful job!"

A sampling of other comments is below. Did you witness great service? Submit a commendation online or by phone.

Learn more about how to stay informed when winter weather strikes at metrotransit.org/snow

 

 

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Light rail construction continues in Minneapolis 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, October 25, 2017 1:00:00 PM

Light rail service will be suspended on portions of the Green and Blue lines this weekend as construction related to improvements in downtown Minneapolis continues.

Buses will replace trains from 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, through 3:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 30, between Target Field Station and the Franklin Avenue and Raymond Avenue stations. Replacement buses will operate on a similar schedule as trains but can take more time.  

While light rail service is suspended, crews will install overhead power lines that transfer energy to trains, underground cabling that will better manage electrical current and signals that guide train movements.

The Washington Avenue Bridge will also be cleaned and painted, and the City of Minneapolis will be repainting crosswalks in several locations.

Construction work will be occurring around the clock until light rail service can be restored.

This summer, light rail service was suspended downtown for nearly two weeks as crews replaced sections of worn rail and installed two new crossovers sections that allow trains to move from one track to another downtown.

The overhead power lines and signals being installed this weekend will allow the trains to use the new crossover sections. For safety reasons, the wiring and signals work couldn’t occur during this summer’s shutdown.

The crossovers and signals will improve reliability by allowing trains to switch between tracks when there is increased train traffic or if a section of track is unexpectedly blocked. The new rail has also created a smoother ride, and will be more durable over time.

Light rail service will be suspended in downtown Minneapolis overnight several times in November and December to allow for signal testing. Test trains will move through downtown but replacement bus service is being provided because the test runs are expected to take longer than scheduled trips.

Pre-planned light rail shutdowns are scheduled during weekends and overnight to limit the impact on customers. In September, combined average weekday ridership on the Blue and Green lines was about 17 percent higher than on Saturdays and 71 percent higher than on Sundays.

The window for construction is also constrained by weather.

Some additional weekend closures are planned for 2018, but no extended light rail shutdowns are expected for at least several years.

Sign up for Rider Alerts to stay up-to-date about upcoming rail maintenance this fall!

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