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Posts in Category: METRO Blue Line

In the News Light Rail METRO Blue Line On the METRO

METRO Blue Line welcomes visitors, boosts revenue 

| Wednesday, November 27, 2013 11:46:00 AM

Visitors who arrive at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are instantly connected to downtown Minneapolis, the Mall of America and numerous hotels thanks to the METRO Blue Line. When the METRO Green Line opens next year, travelers will also be able to reach the University of Minnesota and St. Paul via light rail.

Such convenience is good for business.

A new study by the American Public Transportation Association and U.S. Travel Association found that “rail cities” where airports are served by rail lines regularly outperform those without such a link when it comes to hotel revenue and occupancy rates.

Since 2006, researchers found that hotels in “rail cities” generated 11 percent more revenue per room compared to those without rail. Hotels within a quarter-mile of a station area did even better, showing 12 percent higher occupancy rates and 49 percent higher average daily room rates.

The study drew on data from Minneapolis and five other cities with airport-rail connections (the trip from Terminal 1-Lindbergh station to downtown Minneapolis takes about 20 minutes). The numbers were compared with popular destinations without a direct rail connection, including Las Vegas and New Orleans. 

“Clearly investment in local rail systems not only benefits residents, but drives significant economic growth in the travel and hospitality industries,” APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy said in a statement.

Kristen Montag, the communications manager for Meet Minneapolis, said the Blue Line is a strong selling point for meeting and event planners because it reduces transportation costs and provides visitors flexibility.

It also fits with the Twin Cities’ reputation as an active, vibrant community where biking, walking and taking transit allows people to get around car-free.

“People can get off the plane at the airport and take the train, walk around, use the [free] bus on Nicollet Mall, rent a bike or pretty much do anything without having to rent a car,” she said.  “That certainly makes this an attractive destination.”

The METRO Blue Line's two airport terminal stations are among the busiest of the 19 on the light rail line. In 2012, there were nearly 3 million Blue Line boardings at the Blue Line’s Terminal 1-Lindbergh and Terminal 2-Humphrey stations, representing about 18 percent of total boardings.

"The local business and hospitality industries have underscored how important the Blue Line's airport connection is to major commerce areas in the metro," Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb said. "For travelers, this stress-free connection is a great introduction to what we have to offer in the Twin Cities."

    > APTA: Cities with Rail-to-Airport Connection Boost Hotel Revenue

    > Airport Transit Service

Bus Express Bus Light Rail METRO Blue Line Northstar Rider Information Safety Winter Weather

Rider refresher for flurries in forecast  

| Monday, November 04, 2013 12:20:00 PM

Snow is back in the forecast...and Metro Transit is ready.

Record-setting winter storms in 1991 and 2010 are the only times in Metro Transit’s modern history where bus service was temporarily suspended due to weather. The all-season METRO Blue Line and Northstar Commuter Rail Line are rarely delayed due to snow and ice.

Getting around in the winter does require some adjustment, though. Here are a few important things to know as the snow begins to fall:

Head out early 

Although Metro Transit adds extra buses and drivers to help keep service on schedule and often has access to transit advantages, severe weather can slow travel for everyone on roadways. Check your schedule and consider taking an earlier trip to give yourself some extra time to reach your destination.

Stay safe

During winter, it's especially important to never run alongside moving buses and trains. Brush up on this and other safety tips here.

Cleanup is prioritized to keep buses and trains moving safely and on schedule

When snow falls, bus garages, rail yards and support facilities are cleared first so that buses and trains can begin service on schedule. Park & Ride lots and ramps, Transit Centers and high-traffic customer areas like light-rail stations are cleared next. Ultimately, plans call for clearing all 700 Metro Transit-owned customer-waiting shelters throughout the seven-county metro area as well as a path that allows customers to board and exit buses. If snow has not been cleared from a boarding area, bus drivers will stop where it is safest for customers to board. Instead of standing on snowbanks, wait in a clear area near the posted bus stop sign and board there.

Heat is on, but the right clothes are still key

Busy transit centers, Park & Rides lots and train stations on the Blue Line and Northstar are equipped with heaters to keep customers warm while they wait. Buses and trains are also heated. Still, anyone taking transit should dress warmly and in layers so they can comfortably withstand low and variable temperatures. Snow boots or other winter footwear such as ice grips/cleats are encouraged as train stations, bus boarding areas, and the bus and train floors can become slippery from snow and water. Light-colored or reflective clothing can and clip-on safety flashers can also help operators see and identify customers.

Keep informed with real-time service updates 

Although buses and trains are reliable in severe weather, traffic and road conditions do affect operations. To keep customers informed about delays and detours, Metro Transit shares real-time service updates via Facebook (facebook.com/MetroTransitMN) and Twitter (twitter.com/metrotransitmn). Information is updated approximately every 15 minutes. Route-specific detours are posted online at metrotransit.org/snow.             

> Good Question: How does Metro Transit prioritize winter storm cleanup

> Metro Transit on Twitter

> Metro Transit on Facebook

> Star Tribune: Transit tips for the cold

Community Light Rail METRO Blue Line Northstar

Small trains, big imagination 

| Wednesday, October 30, 2013 12:19:00 PM

For Steve Demlow, building Lego-based displays requires a certain amount of “selective compression.”

“You try to capture the essence of whatever it is that you’re building,” he said.

Demlow’s take on the METRO Blue Line and Northstar Commuter Rail Line do just that. His custom-built models – part of a sweeping set of intricate displays at Minneapolis-based Brickmania – deftly mimic their life-sized counterparts.

With seating for up to 14 Lego "minifigs," Demlow’s light rail train includes carefully-crafted details, such as the hangers that connect the vehicle to overhead power lines (known as pantographs). The star and other graphic elements have been crafted into the Northstar train. Both trains are powered around miniature tracks by small motors.

Demlow came up with the design for the light rail train on his own almost ten years ago and worked with his son Nathan on the Northstar model last year. Demlow said developing the models required a complex combination of pieces and a fair amount of "noodling" over several months.

Between four train cars, a locomotive and a model of Target Field Station, the Northstar display includes more than 7,000 Lego pieces. Each train car holds 44 unique figures (a cow is squeezed into the second floor, just one of many whimsical elements in the displays).

While copying the designs would be tough, Demlow has distilled his Blue Line model train down to a more manageable 90-piece set. When assembled, the small-scale version can be used as a holiday ornament.

Though Demlow could have used his longtime love for Lego bricks to recreate virtually anything, he said he wanted to highlight Metro Transit’s trains because they are such familiar sights for local residents. Among a dizzying array of models on display at Brickmania, the blue, yellow and red trains instantly stand out to visitors.

“There’s a lot for people to look at and it can be pretty visually overwhelming,” said Demlow, a member of the Greater Midwest Lego Train Club. “That’s why I like to build local stuff that people recognize. The trains are obviously a key piece of the community.”

The light rail train Demlow developed bears the Hiawatha branding which has now been replaced by the Blue Line moniker. Demlow said he hopes to create a new version with the updated design elements ahead of the METRO Green Line’s opening next year.

The trains can be seen at Brickmania Toyworks, 1620 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis. Free open houses are held the second Saturday of every month between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and the first Thursday of every month between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. There will be two additional open houses from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7 and Saturday, Dec. 21.  

A replica of the light rail train Demlow created earlier this year can also be seen on display at Commuter Connection’s downtown Minneapolis store, located in the US Bank Plaza’s Skyway level at 220 S. Sixth St., Suite 230. 

The 90-piece light rail kits are available for purchase at both Brickmania and Commuter Connection.

A Line BRT Bus METRO Blue Line Route of the Week St. Paul

Route 74: Easy riding from East to West 

| Friday, October 11, 2013 2:15:00 PM

After working 10-hour, overnight shifts at St. Joseph’s Hospital, the last thing Donna Cooley wants to do is get in her car and deal with traffic. So she takes the Route 74 bus instead.

“It’s just so much easier to let someone else do the driving and ride home after working all night,” Cooley said as she rode from downtown St. Paul to her home on the city’s east side.

Cooley, a nursing assistant, was one of the few homeward bound passengers on a recent early-morning Route 74 trip. But she was far from the only commuter on board.

Traveling east from the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station, Route 74 filled with office-bound customers as it traveled through Highland Park, down Randolph Avenue and up West 7th Street towards downtown St. Paul. After emptying out some 16 miles later at Sun Ray Transit Center, the pattern occurred in reverse as the bus returned from northeast St. Paul along East 7th Street, passing Metro State University, residences and small businesses.

Chris Kimber, of Minneapolis, was among those who boarded at 46th Street shortly after 7 a.m. A south Minneapolis resident, Kimber said she rides her bike seven blocks to 46th Street Station where she catches Route 74. On nice days, she skips the bus ride home and bikes.

“It’s the perfect combination because I get some extra reading time on the way in and some fresh air on the way home,” said Kimber, who also counted the environmental benefits as a key motivation for her use of the bus.

Kimber isn’t the only Route 74 customer with a multimodal commute, either.

Wendi Ward lives above her store, Practical Goods at Snelling and Randolph avenues, and has been without a car for the last decade. In addition to using Route 74, she utilizes HOURCAR’s located at 46th Street Station and nearby Macalaster College.

“I’ve saved a lot of money but there are lots of other benefits,” Ward said as she traveled to a rummage sale. “I live along a snow emergency route and I’ve never once had to shovel my car out of the snow.”

Such advantages are proving an attractive draw along the Route 74 corridor, much of which was once served by streetcars. Nearly 1.6 million customers boarded Route 74 buses last year, up slightly from 2011.

With ridership expected to continue growing, plans are in the works to bring improved transit service to at least two areas now served by Route 74.

The planned A Line would bring Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) amenities to Ford Parkway from 46th Street Station to Snelling Avenue, where it would continue north to Rosedale Center. The proposed B Line would bring BRT to West 7th Street and an extension of the system to East 7th Street is also under consideration.

The BRT corridors would see improved frequency and time-saving technologies like pre-paid fares, traffic signal priority and dual-entrance buses.

Created through a route consolidation in 2001, Route 74 would continue to provide local service even if BRT were implemented. The limited-stop Route 54 that travels along West 7th Street to the airport would be replaced by the B Line, however.

In addition to improving service, the enhancements could support growth in Highland Park, where the Ford Plant is being demolished in anticipation of new mixed-use development, and along West 7th Street, where the old Schmidt Brewery is being revived as artist housing. On St. Paul’s east side, the St. Paul Port Authority is leading the creation of a new business campus at the 61-acre Beacon Bluff area, previously occupied by 3M.

Route 74 customer Kate Severin said she’s interested in the BRT idea but has no qualms about spending a little extra time on the bus. Retired, she has been without a car for nearly two decades simply enjoys the ride.

“I’m a single old lady – I don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time,” she said.

Route 74 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local

ServiceRoute 74 buses travel between the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station and St. Paul’s east side, largely along Randolph Avenue, West 7th and East 7th streets. From the west, buses cross the Mississippi River on Ford Parkway and travel through Highland Village past St. Catherine’s University to West 7th Street and downtown St. Paul. Buses then traverse East 7th Street to St. Paul’s East Side, passing Metro State University, homes and businesses. The longest branches include the 74G, with service to the residential area around Beaver Lake. Routes 74S and 74C go approximately 16 miles end-to-end with service to Sun Ray Transit Center in Maplewood. Buses operate between 4 a.m. and 1 a.m. with service every 15 minutes during rush hour and every 20 minutes midday. Reduced fares are offered in St. Paul's Downtown Zone.

Route length: 15-16 miles

Stops: 128 eastbound, 130 westbound

Vehicles: 40-foot standard

Ridership: Nearly 1.6 million customer boardings in 2012, with an average of more than 4,270 passengers per day.

History: A streetcar line was built in phases along Randolph Avenue to the old Fort Plant between 1890 and 1924. Buses replaced streetcars in 1952. A cable car line, later replaced with an electric streetcar, also ran along East 7th Street until 1952. Route 74 was created in 2001 following a route consolidation.

Future: Bus Rapid Transit is planned for segments of the Route 74 corridor. The A Line, scheduled to open in late 2015, would bring BRT between the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station and Snelling Avenue, where it would continue north to Rosedale Center. The planned B Line, scheduled to open in late 2016, would bring BRT to West 7th Street between the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and downtown St. Paul. The B Line could be extended along East 7th Street as far east as Maplewood Mall, though limited-stop service may come as an interim improvement. Route 74 would continue to provide local service, augmenting the more frequent but limited-stop BRT systems. Route 54, the existing limited-stop service, would be eliminated in favor of BRT.

Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Safety

Keeping a careful eye on the METRO Blue Line 

| Friday, October 11, 2013 10:00:00 AM

Shortly after 9 a.m. on a recent Monday morning, Shawn Jensen and two other rail maintainers got off a light-rail train at the METRO Blue Line’s Target Field Station and began slowly walking south.

Stepping down the line through downtown Minneapolis, the neon-vested trio looked up, down and around the track looking for anything out of the ordinary.

After nearly three hours of methodic walking and observing, the three-man crew had made their way four miles south to 38th Street Station. Another group would later complete the trek, walking from 38th Street to Mall of America Station in Bloomington. 

The goal: notice any changes or anomalies and address the issue quickly as a form of preventative maintenance.

“We’re looking for track structure issues – of course a broken rail or broken rail fasteners,” Jensen, a first shift foreman, said before setting out. “And Interlockings –where there are switches – that’s a real touchy are where that have to spend a little extra time inspecting.”

Besides checking the condition of rails and the fasteners that hold them to the ground, maintainers look for debris in the tracks, slight changes in track alignment and check lubricator boxes to ensure they’re working properly. With turnouts that allow trains to switch sides of the track, maintainers look to make sure the switch points are perfectly flush to the stock rail so light-rail vehicle wheels don’t "pick the point" -- an industry way of saying get caught.  

Maintainers also keep an eye on the Blue Line's aesthetics, picking up trash and noting places where graffiti and overgrown vegetation needs to be removed as they move up-and-down the line.

Such up-close inspections – called “track walking” by those who do it – are not unusual. In fact, maintainers like Jensen walk the entire length of the 11-mile METRO Blue Line twice a week. The same inspections will happen on the METRO Green Line after it opens next year.

Pausing only for heavy snow or rain when visual inspections are conducted from the train’s cab, the federally-mandated walking inspections occur on a year round basis. A group of 13 maintainers and foreman, many with backgrounds in the freight rail industry, perform the walking inspections. All are based at Metro Transit's Light Rail Support Facility.

Rail tracks also go through an ultrasonic inspection every year using a machine that digitally detects internal defects that can't be spotted with the naked eye. Light-rail operators routinely report their observations about track conditions as well.

Even so, track maintenance staff says there’s no replacement for the kind of routine, detailed inspections that come from the weekly walks.

“This gets us very close to it (the rail),” said Charles “Chuck” Anderson, Metro Transit's manager of track maintenance. “There’s just so much you’re trying to observe -- this allows us to really focus.”

Manually performing the inspections is also less obtrusive because trains continue to operate in service while they occur. With three people assigned to the job, a designated lookout watches for trains and makes sure walkers are safely out of the way as the trains pass.

Minor issues that are identified can be remedied in less than a day while other observations lead to longer-term fixes that unfold over time.  

Such diligence has paid off, too. Since the Blue Line opened a decade ago, there have been no performance issues attributed to poor maintenance -- something Jensen says he keeps in mind on his long walks.

“I like doing this because it's good exercise but really we're here to make sure the line is in top condition for the safety of the people who are riding the system,” he said.

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